While American Progress[i] uses the phrase “Stalled Revolution” to describe women’s stagnated growth into executive roles, the phrase also depicts their lack of representation in mid-management levels within the aerospace & defense (A&D) industries. Between 1960 and 2016, women made substantial progress towards gender equality, increasing their representation within the industries from less than 1%[ii] to 21.9%[iii]. Although significant, the data masks a fundamental problem as to why women are finding it more difficult to increase their presence in mid-management and executive roles beyond the 20% threshold.
The “Stalled Revolution”
A paused fundamental change in the organizational structure necessary for the rise of women in leadership positions.
In a 2008 paper, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) cited that women with positions below the executive level in high-tech industries and in engineering, science, and technology careers quit approximately 10 years into their career[iv]. This is a discouraging fact considering the increase in female executive hires and funding for STEM programs from A&D organizations in order to encourage young women to enter the A&D workforce. The net effect is that the number of women who remain and are promoted into executive positions are inadequate to offset the loss of women in mid-management roles. In addition, STEM programs overlook a major population of the female A&D workforce by narrowly focusing on younger professionals who (like their male counterparts) are more likely to change jobs than professionals with greater experience. Successful organizations address these high attrition rates by revising outdated, demanding corporate cultures with narrow promotion pipelines that lack recognition of women’s accomplishments and unintentionally influence women to leave. The transformation of these negative cultures to create a culture that champions diversity comes first and foremost from complete executive leadership buy-in. Without the corporate initiative to put the time, money, and effort into implementing an open and collaborative mindset, there will be no motivation or structure to oversee that changes are being met.
In order to better understand the challenges women face in A&D on a more individual level, Dinte spoke with Diane Giuliani, the Senior Vice President of Business Development and Strategy for Cubic Global Defense[v]. With a 30-year career history in A&D companies including Honeywell and Textron, she has had a diverse set of cultural experiences that she utilizes to develop team-driven environments. Understanding that integrated work cultures and client diversity were the driving factors for her continuous career in A&D, Diane is a proponent of positive, collaborative cultures to motivate both women and men to continue their careers in the field. Those teams that actively listened to everyone’s differing opinions and recognized individual specializations created an environment that she was motivated to work in and felt valued. By acknowledging their own strengths and weaknesses, the teams were better able to work together to build on themselves and pursue objectives. In response, they became tighter communities that developed a holistic approach that looked to every individual to innovate and be involved in their success. Peers from these teams became her mentors and influenced Diane to persevere through negative encounters and overlook being one of the few women in the organizations.
Now in a leadership position, Diane works hard to cultivate these same integrated teams that inspire open, creatively diverse environments. Having entered the A&D industry during a time when women’s voices weren’t valued as they are now, she intimately understands the frustration many women go through early on in their career that might lead them to leave. At the beginning of her career, she dedicated a lot of energy toward projecting herself to be heard or noticed in settings where she was the only woman in the room. To succeed, she learned to adapt herself to the corporate culture to make her personality and voice louder. However, not all women want to, or should, change their personality like Diane did. Building cultures similar to those Diane now cultivates will go far in eliminating the need for women to modify their personas in order to succeed.
Cultures that foster interaction among all employees and model career advancements for women can encourage career longevity. Several studies highlighted by NPR[vi] and AAUW[vii] found that in addition to demanding cultures, engineering and technology firms maintain narrow promotion funnels that tend to discount the accomplishments of their female employees, who in turn fail to see viable career paths. Today, the approximately 20%[viii] of A&D leadership that is female is not enough to serve as role models for women working in the industries. In such environments, promotion depends not just on a successful track record, but also on how well a woman can overcome a negative work environment and how much of her personal life she is willing to sacrifice.
Despite the challenges women face in the A&D industry, Diane is encouraged by the number of younger women with highly technical degrees entering the A&D workforce and sees an end to the “Stalled Revolution”. With a better understanding of A&D work culture and greater resources available to address the above issues, the women joining Diane’s teams are more prepared to overcome underrepresentation, and gender stereotypes. Companies are, and have been taking, steps towards diversifying their teams as Dinte sees clients increasingly ask for more diverse panels of candidates for executive positions. However, these are only initial steps. Choosing the right people who are dedicated to implementing the necessary cultural changes that will encourage women to continue in the A&D industry is the next, and much more complex, step. The multi-pronged approaches leaders must champion through top-down, company-wide initiatives to evolve company cultures are difficult and lengthy processes, but once achieved, they offer broader talents pools that can enrich creative talent and increased innovation, individual success, and corporate growth. These are not easy challenges for A&D organizations to address though, and the “Stalled Revolution” will most likely make multiple appearances before we achieve balanced representation, and as Diane expressed, it is a change that requires perseverance.
[i] Danielle Corley and Judith Warner. “The Women’s Leadership Gap,” The Center for American Progress, May 21, 2017. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2017/05/21/432758/womens-leadership-gap/.
[ii] Andrea Shalal-Esa. “Analysis: Women to Head 3 Top Defense Firms, But Barriers Remain,” Reuters, November 21, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-women-weapons/analysis-women-to-head-3-top-defense-firms-but-barriers-remain-idUSBRE8AK08620121121.
[iii] Carla F. Sands. “Aviation Week Executive Intelligence Special Report,” Aerospace Industries Association, July 30, 2016. http://www.aia-aerospace.org/report/2016-aviation-week-workforce-report/.
[iv] Catherine Hill, Christianne Corbett, Andresse St. Rose, “Why so Few?: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics”, (Report, National Science Foundation & American Association of University Women, 2010) 18-19, https://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/Why-So-Few-Women-in-Science-Technology-Engineering-and-Mathematics.pdf.
[v] Diane Giuliani, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Strategy for Cubic Global Defense, conversation with author, September 22, 2017.
[vi] Nicole St. Fleur, “Many Women Leave Engineering, Blame the Work Culture”, National Public Radio, All Tech Considered (2014), http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/08/12/339638726/many-women-leave-engineering-blame-the-work-culture.
[vii]Catherine Hill, Christianne Corbett, Andresse St. Rose, “Why so Few?: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics”, (Report, National Science Foundation & American Association of University Women, 2010), https://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/Why-So-Few-Women-in-Science-Technology-Engineering-and-Mathematics.pdf.
[viii] Sands, Carla F. “Aviation Week Executive Intelligence Special Report,” Aerospace Industries Association, July 30, 2016. http://www.aia-aerospace.org/report/2016-aviation-week-workforce-report/.