Northrop Grumman, one of the biggest military contractors in the world, disclosed a series of leadership changes yesterday reflecting the growing role of women at the top of the defense industry. In what amounts to a generational renewal of its senior ranks, the company elevated three top-performing females, for the first time splitting leadership of the company equally between men and women. Similar moves at industry leader Lockheed Martin recently put women in charge of most of the company’s big business units, a trend that continued in April when Marillyn Hewson was promoted to become the company’s first female President & Chief Operating Officer.
When the Cold War ended, there were virtually no women in senior management jobs in the U.S. defense industry. Today, they are everywhere. General Dynamics has announced the elevation of Marine Systems head Phebe Novakovic to the CEO’s position. Linda Hudson runs the sprawling U.S. operations of BAE Systems, contributing half the revenues that make BAE the third-biggest military contractor in the world. Hudson has spoken eloquently about how unusual it was to encounter women in non-secretarial jobs when she first joined the industry three decades ago.
Hudson’s path to the top required her to periodically jump to new companies. What’s noteworthy about the Northrop Grumman promotions is that two of the women whose promotions were disclosed Monday have been with the company for a long time, reflecting an internal culture that rewards performance above all else. Linda A. Mills, who has managed the company’s information-technology businesses for many years, now will oversee operations for the entire corporation. Gloria A. Flach, who has been with Northrop for three decades, will head its vast Electronic Systems sector. The third woman being elevated, Kathy J. Warden, joined the company from General Dynamics in 2008; she will now be President of its Information Systems sector.
Not that women are getting all the promotions at Northrop. Rising star Thomas E. Vice returns to the Aerospace Systems sector as President, overseeing both space and airborne systems. Christopher T. Jones, with a deep background in logistics, replaces Vice as head of the Technical Services sector. Many outsiders will no doubt be impressed that the company has such a deep bench of top performers, because every one of the executives promoted on Monday is world-class. However, when you’ve been dealing with the defense industry as long as I have, it’s hard not to notice the prominence of women in the promotions. It appears that the days of going to industry conclaves where everybody in the room seemed to be a guy are gone forever.
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