Becky Sheetz-Runkle is a business author, speaker, strategic marketer and educator. She is the author of Sun Tzu for Women: The Art of War for Winning in Business and maintains a blog Sun Tzu Strategies, where this post first appeared.
I consume a lot of news, from politics to business to something somewhere in between: gender issues in the workplace. But you don’t have to ingest as much news as I do to know about the pay disparity, glass ceiling, sticky floor, etc. etc…..
This is why I like to draw attention to the good things that are happening among exceptional women in business. When I learned that President and COO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, will become the defense contractors’ CEO and President, effective January 1, 2013, I got a little giddy.
January 1 is a big date for women in government contracting, and women in corporate leadership in general. Phebe Novakovic will be promoted to replace retiring CEO Jay Johnson at another Washington, D.C. household name, General Dynamics. Like Hewson, she is currently President and COO.
3 out of 6 ain’t bad
They join Linda Hudson, the first woman to lead a major U.S. defense contractor, when she was named CEO of BAE Systems in 2009. With this, women are now heading three of the six largest defense firms in the U.S.
This is newsworthy in any industry. But in defense contracting, it’s a very big deal. I’ve been in countless board rooms and meetings with defense contractors in the Washington, D.C. region. The women at the table are very rarely in senior leadership positions, though there are notable exceptions. It is yet to be seen how the addition of Hewson and Novakovic to this elite group will impact this dynamic. But we can be hopeful.
Sun Tzu for Women in the defense industry
While it may strike some as unusual that women could climb to the top of a “masculine” industry like weapons and defense, as the author of Sun Tzu for Women, I don’t think it’s a stretch at all. Rather, I think it makes perfect sense. Business is about relationship building. We all know that. But doing business with the Department of Defense, Intelligence and civilian agencies requires an entirely different kind of relationship building. It’s relationships on…pick your performance enhancer.
And it’s in just such an environment of collaboration and team building where women can not only lead well, but also succeed well. Meg Whitman, of the early eBay glory days, hasn’t been called the “Chief Executive Enabler” for nothing. She forged a strong network of partners and built exceptional teams. She is one of many examples of alpha female leadership.
The contracting world requires not just careful building and maintenance of connections with various touch points with the government customer. It also demands smart strategic alliances. Best described as “coopetition,” these big boys (and girls!) need many careful alliances and associations of business partners. Their success often rises and falls based on these relationships.
I know first-hand that many men in the defense contracting world, many of them former members of the military, are quite familiar with the battlefield wisdom of Sun Tzu. I hope Hewson, Novakovik and Hudson are, too, and that they are prepared to apply these strategies to their businesses. They must be well armed to face the looming sequestration challenges that are ahead.
Category: News In Review