The 2024 Women’s Leadership Forum celebrates community

MOUNDS VIEW, Minn. – Nearly 300 Airmen and Soldiers with the Minnesota National Guard attended the 10th Annual Women’s Leadership Forum hosted at Medtronic’s Mounds View campus on Saturday, March 2, 2024. The theme for this year’s forum was ‘Women in the Community,’ and breakout sessions throughout the day focused on career progression, communication, mentorship, and community connection. 

Minnesota’s Adjutant General, Army Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, welcomed attendees to the event and shared his perspective on the contributions of women to the Minnesota National Guard and the Armed Forces, and the progress that women in uniform have made. 

“In 2011, our Guard was comprised of only eight percent women,” Manke said. “Today, we are at 22%. So, thank you to the leaders who have gone before me and to the leaders in this room who made that happen. We still have a way to go.” 

Manke shared his thoughts on a 1978 American Legion magazine article titled Should women be used in military combat, which provided opposing views on the issue. 

“From when the article was written, it took us 35 years to change the DoD stance on women in combat, and I think we got it right,” Manke said. “We all know change can be difficult, and we must be deliberate in supporting the female Soldiers, Airmen, and minorities in our formations. Our people are truly our greatest strength and our most valuable resource.” 

He further reflected on the benefit of multiple perspectives in diverse teams, adding that surrounding decision-makers with like-minded people of the same sex, race, and religious creed will only produce the same answer to problems and may lead to missed opportunities. 

“Diversity helps us to get to the best answer,” he said. “We must recruit and retain a diverse and inclusive population that is reflective of the population of the state of Minnesota for us to be successful.” 

The keynote speaker for the forum was Croatian Army Brig. Gen. Gordana Garašić, the head of the planning directorate of Croatian armed forces. Minnesota has long partnered with Croatia as a part of the DoD’s State Partnership Program, spanning approximately 28 years and involving multiple exercises and deployments. 

Garašić, who was the first and only female general in her organization, shared the current state of gender inclusion in the Croatian Armed Forces. 

“We are a relatively young institution,” she said. “We were formed in the 90’s during the homeland war. It’s a relatively small institution with only 32 general posts. However, around 14% of our military are women, we don’t have restrictions considering active-duty occupations or professions for women in the armed forces and in the leadership positions. Integration of gender perspective, how we call it back home and in NATO documents, is included in regular military education.” 

The continued integration of women into all levels of leadership will prove to be beneficial to any military organization, Garašić said.  

“It has been proven in operations that mixed teams perform better,” she said. “That diversity is our strength, actually, our advantage. It is also one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox of every commander. He or she just has to know how to use it.” 

Sgt. 1st Class Sirrina Martinez  

Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs