Northrop Grumman: Building the Best Culture by Leveraging the Power of Women
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company and also a champion and enabler of workplace diversity. For the better part of a decade, Northrop Grumman has committed to building the best culture—a key component of which is a diverse workforce, particularly at the leadership level. The company is also aware that a large segment of its workforce is reaching retirement age, and the competition for new technical talent is fierce. For Northrop Grumman, widening the talent pool and expanding its leadership pipeline has become an imperative on more than one front.
One flagship effort, among many the company has developed to promote and advance women, people of color, and people with disabilities, is the Women in Leadership program (WIL).
Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman’s Chairman and CEO, says programs like WIL help secure the company’s future:
Like many global companies, we operate in a dynamic and highly competitive business environment. We have learned from experience that our continued success depends on our ability to maintain an inclusive environment with diversity of background and thought in all levels of our organization. Programs such as Women in Leadership are significant contributors to that goal.
Launched in 2014, WIL aims to accelerate the readiness of women for their first executive roles, thereby increasing their representation in leadership. This is accomplished by expanding participants’ exposure to the business, providing them with increased visibility to executives, and emphasizing as well as facilitating network-building.
Standards for qualification are steep. Attendees are culled from Northrop Grumman’s succession benches and must be nominated for the program by their managers. There are four overlapping cohorts per year, each consisting of 50 women. As of the end of 2017, approximately 530 alumnae will have completed the six-month program, and nearly all would say their careers are better for it. The data bear this out; as of 2016, approximately one-quarter of graduates were promoted within a year of completing the program, and more than two-thirds became or remained “high performers.” Perhaps most critically, WIL alumnae are staying put, with only 0.5% voluntarily leaving within a year. This is significant since women in engineering disciplines sometimes feel forced to leave the industry due to the challenges of meeting demanding work and family commitments.
The secret to WIL’s success? It gets personal.
Along with the coaching, career-plan development, and business discussions included in the program’s curriculum, participants candidly talk through challenges they face as women in the workplace, and collectively come up with solutions to overcome them while delivering business results. WIL’s executive sponsors—women who are among Northrop Grumman’s most senior leaders—also share their stories of overcoming obstacles. Many alumnae cite this as one of the program’s most inspiring takeaways.
Alumnae like Zohra Hemani, Senior Program Manager and participant in the inaugural WIL cohort, have successfully leveraged learnings from and leaned on networks built through the program to grow and progress at Northrop Grumman. Says Hemani:
It’s great to have executive sponsors as part of the program. Having the opportunity to hear personal stories from women who are in leadership roles is so unique. Whether we were attending a panel discussion about the company’s vision and strategy, talking about leadership development, or discussing how to negotiate salaries, the personal stories woven throughout made it special.
Hemani, who started her career with Northrop Grumman just out of college in 2002, has held roles across the organization—making her way from software engineer to program management and leadership positions. She recalls just how integral participation in WIL has been to her advancement:
During my participation in WIL, I applied for a more senior role. I leveraged what we’d learned as part of the process, but it wasn’t going as smoothly as I hoped. So, I took the problem to my WIL network. They were able to help me through it with some strategic advice and encouragement to keep going. I pushed through and got the job. The WIL program also indirectly helped me get my next position, as I met my current boss at a WIL networking event and we hit it off talking about user experience. We kept in touch and when she moved to a new leadership role, she thought of me.
She also recognizes Northrop Grumman’s substantial progress in terms of building an inclusive culture:
When I started out I would often be the only female or the only minority in the room. That’s rare now. There’s a lot more consciousness at senior levels that diversity is important; that it’s truly a strength. It’s not perfect yet, but there’s been such a concerted effort to make sure bad behavior isn’t tolerated. There are micro-inequities and unconscious bias training, and many more events and trainings for women and minorities. I also feel that the new generations coming into the workforce are more in tune with this mindset. And our leaders are working to make sure that attitude percolates throughout the organization.
Indeed, Northrop Grumman has redoubled its efforts to diversify since CEO Wes Bush took the helm in 2010. However, the impetus to move toward greater gender parity has been around for some time. The company has hosted its banner Women’s Conference since 2006—bringing together 400–500 women employees from around the world biannually. The conference began as a way to give women across Northrop Grumman exposure to leadership and the opportunity to network, which they previously lacked. Since then, more than 3,000 high-potential women have attended—and been inspired by—the two-and-a-half-day experience.
Efforts to create a more inclusive culture and to diversify Northrop Grumman’s population at every level are making an impact. Of Northrop Grumman’s senior executives—defined as employees who report directly to the CEO—50% are women, and management consists of 25% women.
With the support of committed, passionate leaders, and one another, women at Northrop Grumman are thriving. And with its pledge to make consistent progress under its own roof, Northrop Grumman is working to help turn the tide for an industry.