Women at top in 3 major defense firms

Nov 21 2012, 12:37 IST
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SummaryBut the trend may be short-lived unless more young women choose engineering careers.

the long-term trend of women entering aerospace and defense is no longer assured.

Frankly, we can't take it for granted, she told more than 350 women at the event on Nov. 8, a day before the company's board elected her to succeed Bob Stevens as CEO of Lockheed, the Pentagon's biggest supplier and the world's largest arms maker. Women are losing ground.

RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION

Hewson, 58, knows how hard it can be to break through the glass ceiling. She took 18 different leadership posts at Lockheed and moved her family eight times to reach the top. Her promotion to CEO came abruptly this month, when Lockheed's board fired its first choice, Christopher Kubasik, after he admitted to an improper relationship with a subordinate.

Hewson's long journey explains why defense companies find it tough to retain female employees. As women reach their mid-30s, many switch fields or leave to raise families, especially if they don't see clear advancement opportunities, said Panetta.

Hedden said the departures often reflect frustration among women about the challenges of a male-dominated culture where they feel they must prove their competence over and over again.

They get tired of fighting all the time, Hedden said.

Hudson logged many firsts in her ascent: first female to take engineering drawing at her Florida high school; first woman manager at Ford Aerospace and Communications Corp; first female vice president of an operating company at Martin Marietta; and first female corporate officer and company president at General Dynamics.

Every senior level job I got, people presumed I was incompetent, she said in an earlier interview. Only after I managed to perform did I get the point across.

Women have made bigger gains in professions such as finance and information technology, where they account for 41 percent to 55 percent of the workforce, according to a U.S. Commerce Department study. But in the manufacturing, transportation and mining and gas industries, the female workforce remains relatively small.

Big defense companies are spending to attract young women. Northrop Grumman Corp, for example, invests millions of dollars a year to encourage female high school and college students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math careers, said Linda Mills, who heads the company's $8.4 billion Information Systems unit.

Such investments have helped big companies like Lockheed and Northrop hire a greater proportion of women than smaller firms, according to Aviation Week's study.

Without that investment, declining enrollment in these fields by young women will

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