Blog: Amy Courter

When it comes to the forefront of scientific, technical, and leadership roles, women are still running in place, for the most part. Civil Air Patrol Major General Amy Courter, president of the Michigan chapter of Women in Defense, writes this week on how more women can achieve line positions in Michigan's burgeoning defense industry.

Women in Michigan's Defense Industry

The defense industry has very recently seen a number of women raised into positions of prominence in large defense organizations – General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin come to mind immediately – as significant positions were filled by women in 2012.  While it may not be a tsunami-sized wave, it is certainly a rise in the tide.  I am reminded of JFK's paraphrase from the New England Council that "A rising tide lifts all boats" which illuminates the premise that improvements in an economy will have positive impact more generally on that economy, too. The idea that one should look at the macro indicators to understand trends that may apply throughout is a good way to find early indicators of change.  
It's great to have a positive trend line; we have many women in Michigan in key defense industry leadership positions.  For example, Janet Iwanski is engineering product manager for Abrams Tanks for General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS). She and GDLS played key roles in forming the Women In Defense Michigan Chapter.  In Janet's words, "Women in Defense Michigan started as a perceived need internal to GDLS, where women could mentor and support each other.  The idea was extended to the local defense community by hosting a program to assess interest. That first program in September of 2007, where Dr. Grace Bochenek spoke on the history of women in the military, was so well received and attended that WID-MI was launched!"  

Today, Iwanski serves as an advisor to WID-Michigan, helping us grow to more than 500 members in four short years.  Dr. Bochenek, formerly of GDLS, is now the director for the US ARMY Tank Automotive Research Development Engineering Center (TARDEC).
Two additional, incredible examples are women who have received recognition from WID-Michigan: Ms. Monica Emerson and Ms. Janet Bean.  Emerson received the 2011 WID-Michigan Excellence in Leadership Award.  She has been U.S. Navy diversity officer since August 2009, and is principal adviser to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve operations.  Bean recently retired from a 27-year career in defense at the Detroit Arsenal, including her last four as executive director of Tacom's Integrated Logistics Support Center.

As women have access to more opportunity in large defense organizations and government, it helps to raise the awareness of the benefits women bring to the team.  Across the supply chain we see that in medium and small businesses, women have increasingly more opportunities. While perhaps you didn't anticipate it, Michigan is a great place for women in the defense industry as evidenced by my examples shared above!
To be successful in leadership roles – defense industry or otherwise, one has to be both technically competent in their field as well as competent in leadership.  A trend is beginning to be better understood that, at times, we may be more successful if we think one way and lead another way.  

As an information technology professional, I need to think logically and structurally when I see an opportunity or a challenge that I need to conquer using technology.  However, to motivate a team to tackle a larger technology problem, it is far more effective to lead by alignment of the motivations – to get the team to drive their solution in the right direction and for all the right reasons.  
In a leadership diversity study by a partnership of BusinessWeek and the Hay Group a couple years ago, the company's female executives were significantly more likely than their male counterparts to coach and develop others and to create more committed, collaborative, inclusive – and ultimately more effective – teams.  I believe that this does not say that "women are better leaders" but rather it says that diverse teams stand a better chance of having all the necessary skill sets to be the most effective.
Now, combine the topic "Women in the Michigan Defense Industry" with my last statement of all the necessary skill sets. There needs to be a pipeline – not a gender-biased network – of girls and women who develop the STEM skills of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics – as well as the balancing skills of leadership and management.  Leaders are made, and they can't be made if they're not on the production line.  

Women In Defense – Michigan Chapter has many initiatives to support girls and women as they develop the skills necessary for the defense and security industries.  Our events are attended by a nearly evenly represented mix of women and men. Join us. Help us build an ever stronger Michigan Defense Community!