One reason that Lockheed Martin's F-35 program has made progress in the last year is because women have been put in charge, says U.S. Rep. Kay Granger.
In an opinion piece she has penned for time.com called "How Women are Reshaping the Defense Industry," the former Fort Worth mayor - who is now vice-chair of the House Defense Appropriations committee in Washington - points to the work of Marillyn Hewson, who took over as Lockheed's CEO last year, and Lorraine Martin, who she appointed as the F-35's program manager in Fort Worth.
The Joint Strike Fighter is unique in the world, but has had continuing problems with the Pentagon. There was a real lack of partnering that changed almost immediately when Marilyn took over. The conversation changed as did the attitude. Decisions were made that had been delayed for months.
Women tend to be problem solvers by nature. In many cases, that trait becomes more important than having a particular title, their name on the door or the highest salary, but this can also work to their detriment and make it take longer to reach the top.
To combat problems with the Joint Strike Fighter program, Hewson appointed Lorraine Martin as the program’s general manager in April 2013. As a result of Hewson and Martin’s work, criticism of the program has been significantly reduced. These women achieved this outcome by bringing authenticity to the table and rebuilding the program’s credibility. Rather than tucking away the company’s previous errors, they acknowledged them. They supported contract incentives that now hold Lockheed accountable and pushed the company to make the aircraft for less money.
Granger also singles out Della Williams, the founder of Williams R.D.M. (formerly Williams Pyro), who "founded her company at a time when women’s roles in the workforce were only beginning to change, and she dealt with her share of gender-related challenges early on."
Back then, and even today, women in the workforce often feel they are not listened to. Instead of letting this serve as an obstacle, women have turned it into a strength by becoming better listeners themselves and in the process stronger leaders. This trait becomes very important when you have management-union issues, for instance. It also leads to more win-win decisions and less ego driven results.
Fifty years ago, most engineers were men, and when they picked up the phone to call Williams Pyro, they expected to speak with a male counterpart on the other end. When they heard Della Williams’ voice on the line, many of them were skeptical of whether she could help them. To the skeptics, Williams would say, “Try me.” If she couldn’t help them, they were no worse off than before they called — but that was rarely the case.
Like most executives, earning a good reputation and rapport with customers and other industry leaders didn’t come without Williams spending a lot of time at work. Unfortunately for her, as a woman, the idea of balancing work and family would inevitably come up. She felt a duty to her employees, their families and her customers, so there were many nights when Williams remained at work instead of going home. She was so devoted to the success of Williams Pyro that she even returned to work four days after having her third child during the full-scale development of Lockheed Martin’s F-16.
Hewson, Martin and Williams, Granger writes, "are proving that one's gender doesn't matter."
Or maybe it does.
-- Steve Kaskovich