Gender & Corporate Leadership

I interviewed the VP of Ethics and Compliance, Jessica B about her experiences with gender bias throughout her career and specifically in corporate leadership. She discussed what it was like to work for Lockheed Martin- a Puerto Rican woman in an old white man’s world. She described how she was disrespected and talked down to, including encountering micro-aggressions such as being called “sweetie” and “darling”. Despite these overt intrusions, she persisted. She attributes her success to her mentor Linda Gooden, field work in international combat zones, and drive to have her voice heard.

Linda is an African American woman who retired in 2013 as Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions – a $9 billion business. She adamantly believed that the challenges she encountered in the military contract complex had hardened her. She was known for being a no-nonsense leader. If someone demonstrated a lack of preparation in a meeting she would close her binder and walk out, leaving her “attack dogs” to chew into that person for wasting her time. She cursed at people and made grown men cry in the boardroom. Although Jessica learned a lot from Linda about strength in the face of the male majority, she preaches a more empathetic and respectful form of leadership.

Jessica credits her field work experience in war zones such as Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia as giving her invaluable perspective and street cred, allowing her to garner respect from both her male and female colleagues. Her experience allowed her to understand and speak for the needs of individuals in the field. This knowledge legitimized her power to make policy that would impact these individuals, gave her a reputation for toughness, and distanced herself from the perception of being from the “Ivory Tower”.

In class we have focused a lot on gender biases in leadership, specifically implicit schemas, gender incongruence, and how these phenomena’s effect women’s rise to executive positions. Gender congruence theory, or the observation that people closely associate characteristics that are traditionally male with leaders, may have informed Linda’s presentation and style. She adapted male physical attributes- a short crew-cut- and what would be considered traditionally masculine leadership styles to be respected in a male dominated sphere. Many women are forced to compensate for these biases to compete with their equally qualified male counterparts. They may do so by working harder or focusing on gaining more qualifications, such as Jessica’s war-zone experience.

Jessica emphasizes that corporate culture goes a long way in empowering female leaders and reducing the gender gap. The Henry Jackson Foundation emphasizes equity and diversity. More than half of their executive board is female, and Jessica believes that here her ideas are respected and taken seriously. By creating a positive corporate culture, we can work towards more women in leadership positions and a fairer society.