CPO1 Alena Mondelli recognized as one of Canada’s most powerful women

Navy News / January 6, 2022

By Joanie Veitch

The award may have her name on it, but for Chief Petty Officer 1st Class (CPO1) Alena Mondelli being named one of Canada’s most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network is a win for all women who work as non-commissioned members (NCM) in the military.

“I’m an NCM,” said CPO1 Mondelli, noting that officers are often perceived as being more valuable as leaders than NCMs. “So it means a lot — and it says a lot — especially for women NCMs. We are professionals within the profession of arms. And we are also leaders.”

“I see this award as giving value to what we represent. Sailors are not going to relate to an admiral or a commodore. They need to see themselves represented and see what they can aspire to. Representation matters,” said CPO1 Mondelli, who hopes she will be the first of many women to be a Base Chief.

After joining the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) as a naval radio operator in 1991, she was posted to her first ship in 1993. Since then she has served on a variety of RCN ships, as well as various positions ashore, including a stint teaching at Royal Military College Saint-Jean, Quebec.

“I wanted to teach NCMs. I was very vocal about that. When that opportunity came up, I was there,” she said.

Education has been pivotal for CPO1 Mondelli. Following a “really negative experience” while deployed in HMCS Protecteur, she was thinking of leaving the Navy. But while working on her Master’s degree in Leadership she decided to stay.

“That was a turning point for me. I decided to use what I’d learned to be part of the change I wanted to see,” she said.

While well-documented and ongoing reports of harassment and sexual misconduct within the military have made the need for cultural change a priority for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as a whole, as a woman leader in the CAF, that discussion has at times been very personal for CPO1 Mondelli.

“In my 30-year career I’ve experienced inappropriate sexual behaviour. I’ve experienced the jokes – a lot of that was in my early career – but after a certain rank, it became sexism, misogyny and hate. What that looks like is malicious rumours. It’s defamation of character. It’s lying.”

In mid-November she added her claim to the sexual misconduct class action lawsuit to compensate current and former CAF members, and Department of National Defence staff, who experienced sexual misconduct while on the job.

“I was on the fence about it for a long time. I grew up in the Navy in the early 90s. I know that in some way I contributed to that culture. I was fitting in. I was going along. I wanted to be part of the group.”

“But when I submitted my claim and when I saw everything written out in front of me, I thought ‘Yeah, I’ve had all of this done to me.’ It was eye opening.”

Where words really matter, she said, is in having difficult but needed conversations – talking and listening to one another as the CAF moves through the process of change.

“This will take time, but I’m ok with that because by taking our time, it means it will be done right. These are uncomfortable conversations but we’re having them – it’s why I’m still in.”

When she became Base Chief in July, CPO1 Mondelli knew she was stepping into a position with considerable influence. At the time she made a vow to herself.

“I decided that I would just be who I am, that I would be authentic and see what comes of that.”

Now recognized as one of Canada’s top 100 women, CPO1 Mondelli is looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“I love what I do,” she said. “I love being in the Navy, being in the CAF – I’m planning to stay in as long as they’ll let me.”