In order to aspire to be an excellent leader, you need to have an excellent team.
Just ask Emily Bassett. She has been selected as the commanding officer of one of the Navy's newest littoral combat ships.
We should probably pause there for a moment because she's doing big things.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, approximately 200,000 women are serving in the military right now. That number accounts for less than 15% of the total armed forces population in the U.S. When it comes to female senior officers, that percentage drops significantly.
But Emily doesn't want a pat on the back for being one of the few women who continue to ascend through the military ranks. Instead she wants to focus on how she arrived there so others can do the same.
Motivation was never an issue for Emily. As far back as she can remember, she knew she had what it takes to be a shot-caller. "When I was growing up I told everyone that I wanted to be an ambassador, a boss, a leader, or something," Emily told me. "Once I got older, the military interested me and became my avenue to leadership."
She received a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship from Boston University and entered the service directly after graduation in 1999. Once she joined the military, it didn't take her long to notice that there weren't very many people who looked like her. "Women were few and far between," Emily recalled. "Of the few that were there, even fewer lasted beyond the four-year point."
"Because many of us were looking for partners. Asking a guy you've just met to pack up his career and follow you is usually a non-starter."
Emily knew she wanted a husband, kids, and her career. But making that work would be tricky.
The four-year point is when many in the military make their decision to stay or leave. Emily had to make that decision shortly after meeting her future husband.
Will Bassett was an active duty pilot in the military when they met. Emily remembers the early days of dating as if they happened yesterday.
"It was love at first sight," Emily recalled. "I really wanted to continue with my military career, and the reason why I was able to was because we both agreed that it worked for us. One of us wasn't giving up something for the other."
While enjoying a latte at Starbucks, she wrote out her 20-year plan on a napkin and asked Will, "Does this work for you?" He agreed that it did. Wedding bells followed two years later.
Part of their plan included children. Since Emily can be on a ship for months at at time, Will needed to be home full time with their two young children, Edward and Isabel, so he retired as a Navy pilot and became a stay-at-home dad. Again, it was a situation that worked for both of them.
"Will is an 'all-in' dad, completely 100% in," Emily beamed. "He cooks, he cleans, he reads stories, he fixes leaks and remodels bathrooms, he does it all. We would be lost without him."
Emily recognizes that many women can do it alone — single parents balance the demands of kids and work all the time — but it wasn't a part of her plan.
The amount of stay-at-home dads are rising, but does society accept them?
Although the current number of stay-at-home dads in America increased to a total of 2 million, many of these men cannot shed the negative stereotypes that follow them. Emily has heard stories about how stay-at-home dads are ridiculed for "spending their wives' money," or for being unwilling to find "real jobs."
Fortunately, Will is secure enough in himself to be the parent at home while Emily pursues her career in military leadership. Even his kids are secure with it.
"When I went to pick up my 4-year-old daughter Isabel from school recently, one of her classmates asked why I always get her," Will said. "Isabel responded proudly that it's because her mommy is busy taking care of sailors on a ship, and my daddy is here with me. It was a cool moment that demonstrated how much my daughter appreciates the work we do."
Let's deliver some real talk here — the next time a man is asked how he juggles fatherhood and his career, it will be the first. In heterosexual, two-parent families, moms are always known to step up on the home front. Now that more women are stepping up in their careers, it's long overdue that more of the men in those relationships take over at home to level the playing field.
These career choices can be tough. Luckily, Emily has a support group that's helping her through it.
There aren't very many people like Emily in the military, and finding women in her role to share ideas and frustrations with used to be difficult for her.
Now Emily is a member of a Lean In Circle, which are intimate groups of peers who share a similar bond — and both men and women can participate. Her particular group consists of female leaders in the military, and they enjoy monthly candid conversations about all facets of their careers and life at home. It's become an invaluable part of her growth as a leader and mother.
"Lean In Circles have been a huge benefit to me for mentorship and professional development," Emily told me. "But what keeps me going back after three years is that my circle is a safe place to discuss leadership challenges and our biases that hold women and mothers back."
Many of the women in Emily's Lean In Circle are moms and their spouses stay at home with the kids, like Will does. It provides more proof that the Bassetts aren't the only ones with a similar family dynamic.
Not every woman pursuing a career needs a partner at home (clearly). But for some families, it works.
Yes, it's possible for our daughters to be CEOs, business owners, entrepreneurs, senior military officers — or whatever their hearts desire. Most importantly, they can tackle these careers while also being amazing mothers. They're not mutually exclusive.
Families come in all different forms. But it's awesome to see this couple making things work while smashing stereotypes at the same time.