As women continue to press against the glass ceiling, more and more are beginning to break through as chief executives, federal officials and even presidential candidates. Now some are rising to the upper echelons of one of the nation’s most male-dominated sectors — the defense industry.
Linda Hudson, named president of BAE Systems’ Arlington-based U.S. business last year, is now one of the highest-ranking women in the defense contracting business. Three of four operating divisions at Bethesda-based contracting powerhouse Lockheed Martin are run by women. Phebe N. Novakovic serves as executive vice president for marine systems at General Dynamics of Falls Church.
Their rise is attracting notice: All five made Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business list this year, and that group doesn’t include Maryanne R. Lavan, who was named Lockheed’s first female general counsel.
Hudson grew up in Florida during the heyday of the space program, which spurred an early interest in airplanes and rockets. The daughter of teachers, Hudson said she received plenty of family support and graduated as one of two women in her class from the University of Florida’s engineering school.
Hudson, who began her career in the early 1970s, said she encountered bias but decided to let her work speak for itself so her bosses “would have to overlook the fact that I was female.”
In time, they did, allowing her to steadily climb the ladder over a 38-year career.
Linda Gooden, who runs Lockheed’s information systems and global solutions business, got her start in the industry when General Dynamics recruited her out of college to write software. She had long been interested in technology, figuring it was a field in which she wouldn’t get bored.
When she graduated, computers were just coming of age and Gooden was one of only two women in her class who earned software engineering degrees. She said she trusted that her superiors would ultimately judge her on her performance.
“I was treated like one of the team,” she said. “That never changed.”
She has remained in the industry ever since, including the past 30 years with Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed’s Marillyn A. Hewson, who oversees the company’s electronic systems business, which includes tactical missiles and complex systems for ships and vehicles, started as a senior industrial engineer working on production of military aircraft in Marietta, Ga., in the early 1980s. The program was a new one for Lockheed, and Hewson was soon given supervisory duties, including bringing on employees.
The women watched as other women gradually assumed senior leadership roles within the Pentagon bureaucracy.
For example, Gen. Ann Dunwoody in 2008 became the first four-star general in the U.S. military, while Letitia A. Long earlier this year became the first woman to lead a major U.S. intelligence agency in the Defense Department when she assumed control of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
“We’re seeing people like Ann [Dunwoody] reach the level that she’s reached at a similar time people like me are reaching these kinds of levels in the corporate world,” Hudson said. “I think the dynamics are much the same.”
At the same time, women are increasingly earning more. In the Washington region, one in six women earned more than $100,000 last year, but women’s advocates have cautioned that a wage gap remains.
The female executives said they now feel a responsibility to mentor and encourage younger employees and students, and not just women.
With time, attitudes change.
“For the first 10 or 15 years of my career, it was pretty much textbook discrimination in the workplace,” Hudson said. “I think we’ve come a long way in the last 38 years.”
By Marjorie Censer
Monday, October 11, 2010