Twenty-first anniversary: speaking out
Women at the top: two powerful women in technology
Their numbers are still small, but tech women are becoming more visible at the highest reaches of business and government
By Kate Colborn
Editor in chief
There is some good news on the gender diversity front.
When Marillyn Hewson became the CEO of Lockheed Martin in January 2013, she wasnít the first woman to take the reins of a major U.S. defense company. Phebe Novakovic took over as head of General Dynamics, also this January, and Linda Hudson, who will retire in 2014, has led the U.S. arm of BAE Systems since 2009.
And Dr Allison Macfarlane, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, wasnít the first woman to head the NRC. Two other women have led the agency: Shirley Jackson from 1995-1999, and Greta Dicus, who succeeded Jackson briefly in 1999.
These women are part of a slowly growing number of female technical professionals who are reaching the top levels of industry and government. Are they the front edge of a wave of women tech pros who have been in the tech workforce long enough to make it the tops of their organizations? Possibly. Both Hewson and Macfarlane say, though, that they want to see more women moving up in technical ranks.
To mark our twenty-first anniversary, Diversity/Careers questioned Hewson and Macfarlane on their own careers and their thoughts about the future for tech women in leadership positions. Their responses reflect a concern, and a message: women in powerful positions have a responsibility to be role models for the next generation of female tech leaders.
Diversity/Careers: The number of women in positions like yours, at the top of a major tech-focused organization, has grown in the last decade. What do you think has changed to make it possible for a woman to lead an organization like yours? Do you think the number of women leaders in tech will continue to grow?
Marillyn Hewson: Iím encouraged to see a growing number of exceptional women leaders across the technology industry. I think we will continue to see that number grow in the future, because thereís a strong pipeline of up-and-coming leaders right behind them. Itís important to remember that todayís women leaders got to where they are the same way as any leader: through hard work, talent and determination. The key thing is to make sure everyone who aspires to leadership has an opportunity to grow, learn and take on new challenges that will prepare them for future roles.
In recent years, a number of technology companies, including Lockheed Martin, have made significant strides in recruiting and developing a more diverse talent pool, and I believe in the coming years weíll see that effort result in greater diversity at all levels of leadership.
Allison Macfarlane: In the 1980s and 1990s, more women went into the sciences. Now weíre finally getting to the point where those women should be reaching the upper levels of management, and some are, but not enough. Of course, affirmative action helped get many of us here and provided us the opportunity to demonstrate that women are capable of great success in leadership roles. As these women reached the upper levels of management, they became role models.
I hope the number of women in technology will continue to grow. However, to make that a reality, I believe it is essential for women in leadership roles to speak about how important it is for women to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Women need to support students and entry-level employees by offering mentoring opportunities.
I think it is vital for women in science and technology fields to find ways to bring other women into these fields.
D/C: Is your leadership style significantly different from your male predecessorsí approaches? Do you expect that your leadership will change your organizationís ďculture?Ē How?
AM: Throughout my tenure, Iíve focused my attention on how the NRC can draw on the strengths of its staff to maintain its status as an outstanding regulatory agency and one of the best places to work in the federal government. I try to lead by example but also lead collaboratively. I try to understand the full range of views on an issue before making a decision, while remaining true to my own values.
As for changing the culture, Iím not sure, but Iíve had staff tell me that my sensitivity to family and home life issues makes them feel more comfortable and eases their concerns about life outside work. I have young children, a husband with an active career, and an aging parent, so I understand how difficult it is to balance these issues. I think that demonstrating a healthy work-life balance as a senior manager gives other women greater confidence that they could do the same, when they may not have otherwise believed it was possible.
MH: Every leader has their own management style. Whatís important at the top is consistency of vision and purpose and maintaining the highest level of integrity. While each leader leaves their unique mark on an organization, Lockheed Martin has always been driven by people who believe strongly in the work we do in support of our customers. Iím proud to carry on that legacy. Iím passionate about our purpose of helping our customers strengthen global security, deliver essential government services and advance scientific discovery. Iím honored to work with employees who are just as passionate and driven.
Iíve held twenty different leadership positions at Lockheed Martin, including this one, and I moved to a different location eight times. My philosophy has always been to never back down from a challenge. That often meant taking on some pretty tough assignments. Ultimately, I think itís the breadth of those assignments that made me a better leader and a stronger person.
In terms of culture, I think itís important that we create an environment where people are empowered to do their best work. That means ensuring we create an inclusive work environment where people feel that they can bring their perspective, their experience and their whole selves to the job.
Itís important that our corporation continues to have a culture of agility. Our industry is going through rapid and remarkable change. Itís not enough just to respond. We need to anticipate, and look beyond today to the challenges of tomorrow. Embracing diversity is a critical part of that agility because it sparks the ideas, innovations and perspectives that will keep us ahead of the curve.
D/C: Is there a cohort of women leaders in your organization who will be ready to take on top executive positions in the next decade? How many of them have technical backgrounds?
AM: There are some women in the agency in senior management positions, but frankly not enough. I have been meeting individually and jointly with the women who serve in senior management positions at the NRC to understand the roadblocks they have faced in moving up. In my discussions with the existing management team, Iíve been clear about my goals to increase the diversity of management at the agency.
We need to make sure that key factors that contribute to selection for promotions arenít barriers for women or minorities seeking leadership positions. There are quite a few talented women at lower levels who will make excellent senior managers in the coming years. I regularly encourage the women in the agency to build networks so they can share their experiences and career development strategies with women who may be interested in pursuing leadership positions.
MH: Lockheed Martin is fortunate to have a robust and diverse leadership team across our corporation. Many have technical backgrounds, and others come from different functional areas of expertise. Weíre fortunate to have a number of talented female executives at the highest levels of the corporation, including Maryanne Lavan, senior vice president and general counsel; Sondra Barbour, executive vice president of IS&GS; Lorraine Martin, executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program; and many others who are making enormous contributions to our business. My executive leadership team and I review our talent plan regularly, and Iím always energized to see a robust and diverse talent pool teeming with promising future leaders.
D/C: Is your organization involved in efforts to encourage, attract or promote women in technology? Have you been involved in any of those efforts?
MH: Lockheed Martin partners with a number of great organizations to inspire students of all ages to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math. We believe this is the key to filling the technical talent pipeline with diverse candidates.
Weíre founding partners of the USA Science and Engineering Festival, the countryís largest STEM event. Our Engineers in the Classroom program sends hundreds of our employees to schools nationwide each year. Weíre also proud to partner with organizations like the Society of Women Engineers, the Anita Borg Institute and Great Minds in STEM. I personally attend many of the events sponsored by these and other organizations. Our company values these strategic partnerships and the role they play in making a positive impact on STEM participation, particularly with women and minority groups.
AM: The NRC has an action plan that focuses on recruiting women and minorities from STEM disciplines. Our strategic workforce planning focuses on identifying short and long-term critical skill gaps and includes improving the diversity of the agency. The NRC attends a number of recruitment activities each year at universities and conferences, places recruitment advertisements in targeted media, and participates regularly in activities sponsored by the National Society of Women Engineers.
We also have periodic events for senior executive service (SES) women from throughout the agency. Weíve invited successful SES women from other agencies to share their strategies and insights as guest speakers. Iíve had the opportunity to participate in several of these discussions, and have championed opportunities for further engagement in this area.
D/C: Your position makes you a de facto role model for women in technology who aspire to leadership positions. Do you find that a comfortable role? Were mentors/champions important to your career? Do you actively mentor rising technical pros in your organization?
AM: Yes, I feel very comfortable as a role model, and I believe Iím a role model for women and men. I remember when I was a new assistant professor teaching geology; I was proud to be able to demonstrate that it was possible to have a competent and commanding woman teaching a science course.
I want everyone to accept that itís normal for a woman to be a scientist, engineer, manager Ė or chairman.
Mentors have been essential to my success. They provided guidance, a sounding board and advice on career moves, and they continue to. One canít advance in a career without a team of mentors Ė multiple views are always important. And as I stated previously, I think it is important that women in higher positions mentor women and other minorities to help them succeed.
MH: Every leader has a responsibility to mentor the next generation, and I embrace that responsibility. Itís one of the reasons I helped start the Lockheed Martin Womenís Leadership Forum over a decade ago, which brings together women leaders from across the corporation for networking and professional development. We now have several additional leadership forums, including African American, Asian American, Hispanic, LGBT, military/veterans and people with disabilities, and theyíve been incredibly successful. Itís important for all employees to have opportunities to network with leaders who have business insight, industry experience and leadership expertise.
I continue to participate in mentoring relationships. Serving as a mentor is both rewarding and enlightening. I learn as much from my mentees as they do from me, and itís gratifying to watch their careers develop and help them grow as leaders.
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