A Least-Sexist Industry

Would you be surprised to hear that a major American industry is now primarily led by women? Would you be more surprised to learn that it was the military-industrial complex?
From the executive leadership of top weapons-makers, to the senior government officials designing and purchasing the nation’s military arsenal, the United States’ national defense hierarchy is, for the first time, largely run by women.

As of Jan. 1, the CEOs of four of the nation's five biggest defense contractors — Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and the defense arm of Boeing — are now women. And across the negotiating table, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer and the chief overseer of the nation's nuclear stockpile now join other women in some of the most influential national security posts, such as the nation's top arms control negotiator and the secretary of the Air Force.
The women interviewed have mostly positive things to say about their experience working in what one might have thought of as the epitome of male-dominated fields, that of weapons and war. So the question the article gets to, which is the most interesting question, is: do women do weapons and war differently? In other words, have we gained or lost anything by the transition?
How is their approach to leadership different than men's? In many ways, both subtle and not so subtle, whether in solving problems or questioning deeply held assumptions, they say.

Panetta, who says she is often asked about the benefits of women in leadership, tells the story of soldiers in the desert using pantyhose to keep sand out of sensitive equipment. “Do you think a guy thought of that?” she asked. “For the longest time, these male-dominated organizations missed half of the population’s perspective on an issue or on an approach.”

McCaffrey also said women are less "wedded to ‘we’ve always done it this way.' Sometimes women are a little more willing to question that.”

She ticked off several other ways defense companies and national security agencies can operate more effectively with women leading the way.

For one, women are shrewd negotiators. “I’ve known women who were good negotiators because they were underestimated,” McCaffrey said. “The key to negotiating is making sure you know what other peoples’ priorities are. Women tend to do that really, really well.”

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson — the third woman to hold the job since the 1990s — told lawmakers last year she believes it's perfectly natural for women to play a greater role in defending the country.

“If I ask everyone in this room to think about the most protective person you know in your life, someone who would do anything to keep you safe, half the people in this room would think about their moms,” she told the House Armed Services Committee. “We are the protectors; that’s what the military does. We serve to protect the rest of you, and that’s a very natural place for a woman to be.”
That's a pretty unimpressive set of arguments, I think, but perhaps that's to the good. It indicates that there hasn't been radical change in how things are done, because the clearest paradigm isn't 'We decided this-or-that category of weapons was inhumane and stopped building them' but 'we started using pantyhose as a filter, which shows how radically different our perspective is.' Maybe women are better at understanding people's priorities, but maybe that's just another stereotype. Certainly being underestimated can be an advantage in negotiations, but not necessarily so; if a committee is united in underestimating you, they may simply steamroller your objections because they don't take you seriously. (Nor, for that matter, is it true that women are universally underestimated anyway: some of them are overestimated, and others are quite forceful enough to prevent underestimation.)

The interview does end on a sour note.
“I think this is great," added McCaffrey, "but not if 10 years from now, these women are gone and we’re back to having all white men in these positions."
That's disappointing, as it undercuts all the earlier talk about how 'finding the best person for the job' was what this was all about. The sex and class resentments, which white men must have been at the forefront of yielding up since they're the ones who had all the power not long ago, are roadblocks to attaining the goal of promotion by merit alone. I don't know if that goal is attainable, but the persistence of the resentments is not encouraging.


Christopher B said...

Panetta ... tells the story of soldiers in the desert using pantyhose to keep sand out of sensitive equipment. “Do you think a guy thought of that?” she asked.

Lord did I have hard time keeping my eyes in my head after that line. Men have been using pantyhose for many more intimate reasons than keeping sand out of equipment for a long time. They were recommended for as cold-weather gear back when I was kid, and still are.

Grim said...

I don't own any pantyhose, but Under Armor makes a good pair of cold-weather tights that I assume serve very similar purposes.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

These arguments are all in the sky. "Well, it could be that..." I have never had objections to women doing what are traditionally men's jobs and am willing to assume they are just as good until proven otherwise. But as I noted about a month ago, if people had good arguments they would use them. These aren't good arguments, and they are coming from the people best positioned to make good arguments.

The weak positive arguments are turning me slowly away.

E Hines said...

Maybe women are better at understanding people's priorities, but maybe that's just another stereotype.

Maybe it's a stereotype, maybe it's a useful defensive mechanism in a male-dominated world. I'll play the nurture card, too: it's a useful skill in handling children.

Still, I've held for a long time that anyone who can work the equipment and send accurate fire down range out to be involved in sending the fire. That holds all the way up to the highest levels of management. Problem solving wants lots of perspectives in the initial stages.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...

Pfffft. All we are seeing is the results of affirmative action, where large companies are awarded advantages in dealing with the government for picking women and other favored groups as their representatives. It has nothing to do with how well these people perform. That is the reason for the sour note: McCaffrey knows the hiring decisions were coerced.


Ymarsakar said...

The Military INdustrial Compelx as mentioned by Eisenhower, was always NASA and JPL

Those other American patriotic companies are merely shell corporation fronts that somehow people labeled as the MIC. Technically the label fits, but I highly doubt that EIsenhowever was warning people against American companies making tools for warriors.