The Rise of Women in the Defense Industry

In July, there was an article the rise of women transforms the defense industry. I thought that this was a pretty cool and inspiring story, given my almost 10 years working in aerospace, and my passion for women in engineering and technology field. While defense has long been thought of as a men’s field, there is a recent increase in the number of women leading these organizations.

A child can dream and be a part of that dream someday

Apollo 1

Apollo 1

As a child of the Space Shuttle era, I know what it was like for me, and how impressionable I was, when it came to following the Shuttle program in my choice of college majors. I can only imagine what it was like to be a child, whether boy or girl, and witness the Apollo missions in his or her own backyard, and then grow up to become a part of that industry. This dream really did come true for Linda Hudson.

She is considered the most powerful woman in the global defense industry. She is now the chief operating officer of the world’s second largest contractor in the defense industry, BAE Systems.

Other women in the defense industry

Phebe Novakovic, an official in Clinton’s administration, will become Chairman and CEO of General Dynamics, another U.S. defense contractor.

Linda Mills, head of IT in Northrup Grumman, will now be in-charge of operations of the whole company with two other women heading other business units in the company.

In January, Marilyn Hewson, the head of the electronics unit in Lockheed Martin, will become its first female president and chief operating officer.

Women rise through the ranks

These women weren’t just placed in to these positions by some influential board officers or big names in the government. Most of them have been in the same company (or at least the industry) for years, and have been rising through the ranks.

Do a search on each of these powerful women, and you’ll find diversity in personality and style, from the strong and fierce to the more friendly but firm. These women each became leaders with their own style, but there is a common foundation that they must deliver their best performance to stay on top and guide these big companies to success.

In addition, their success may have to do with some things that women do to become leaders, as I wrote about in my recent article:

“There is another take on women being good leaders. Two years ago Psychology Today had an article about Why Women Make Better Leaders than Men. Though some of their statements and conclusions are pretty bold, their most simple answer to the question is that most leaders actually fail (short tenures, success is due to other factors than what the leaders have done). A scholar on this topic, Dr. Alice Eagly says that according to her studies women are more likely to have the leadership qualities that could lead to success – being more transformational than men because they have the tendency to care more about their subordinates and to inspire them to do the tasks at their best.”

Women abroad are also recognized/critical to the defense sector

Last year Zeynep Rüstemoğlu, the owner of Forum Industries which offers automatic fire detection and suppression system, was named Turkey’s best woman entrepreneur.

Looking back in history, as early as World War II, Asian Pacific American women have been part of the world of defense. During those times Japanese American and Chinese American women were members of the Armed Forces and their duties included serving as translators and interpreters. Additionally, some of them were on the fields along with the men fighting.

Filipino American women were also part of the underground resistance in the Philippines. They smuggled food for the prisoners of war, and some of them were tasked to map out the enemy’s base camp as well as land mines. Women also served as female nurses who were in the camps helping their country men and allies in their fights during the war.

United Nations Defense Sector Policy

Just over a year ago, the UN put out a Defense Sector Reform policy. Annex Four of this document under “Broad Types of Reforms that could be Supported by the United Nations in Accordance with Security Council resolutions or General Assembly” states:

5. Legislation, policy and doctrinal reforms. This type of reform aims to create, reformulate and/or update defence legislation, codes, norms, policies, strategies, regulations, doctrine and/or standards. For example: updating existing legislation on the basis of new international human rights norms and standards; developing a new Statute or Law for the Administration and Regulation for the Ministry of Defence; developing a policy intended to increase the representation of women in the defence sector.

I think this is great news for women. Building on the surge of female leadership in major defense companies, there is an explicit focus of increasing female involvement at the level of the UN. How would the focus and actions of the defense industries and countries be different if there were more women in the decision making and prioritization process?

What do you think? I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

About Tamra Johnson

I’m an entrepreneur and a recent MBA graduate from UCLA Anderson. I have 10 years of experience in IT Management and Systems Engineering. I love learning, helping others, exploring the world around me, running at the beach, going to concerts, and visiting family and friends. I grew up in Helotes, Texas, went to undergrad in Cambridge, MA, and now live in Venice, CA.
This entry was posted in Ambition, Leadership, Technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Rise of Women in the Defense Industry

  1. Marilyn Benke says:

    What an awesome article Tamra, very proud of your accomplishments and your article on accomplishments of women’s rise in defense industry.

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