Women take on top posts at defense contractors

There has been much talk about women and the military this month, mostly centered on adultery. Unfortunately, the news that defense giant Lockheed Martin appointed its first female chief executive, Marillyn Hewson, got lost in the maelstrom. For an industry that has been historically all-male — in gun manufacturing, airplane building, tank making ­— Hewson’s elevation is a milestone.

Hewson is a 30-year veteran of Lockheed Martin, which has been supplying defense needs since 1912. The entire defense industry is changing rapidly as more women gain top jobs. Phebe Novakovic will lead General Dynamics starting next year. Linda Hudson is CEO of BAE Systems. That means that by 2013, three of the six largest defense contractors in the country will be run by women. Each will be heading a firm that will need to adapt to a changing political environment; both Hewson and Novakovic will take charge on the very day when massive defense cuts will occur should the country fall over the so-called fiscal cliff.

The fact that they are women won’t change the nature of the industry; all of them can be expected to argue for higher defense spending. But they are breaking down a culture that has traditionally been closed to women, and serve as important role models for a younger generation who will be working in a time of fiscal constraint and demands for better management. These leaders will make tough decisions and be judged on the same criteria as their male counterparts. They are an image of women and the military that is, in this time of scandal, worthy of recognition.