The 11th Women of Color Technologist of the Year was Thursday’s guest speaker on the Women of Color in STEM webinar series.
Trailblazer Chineta K. Davis was senior vice president for Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems business unit when she won the top Women of Color award in 2007. Davis was one of the first women of color to hold this title at any Fortune 100 defense company. Since she retired, Davis has put her executive skills to good use. She serves as the second vice chair of the Associated Black Charities.
Asked what 5 things she wished she knew at the start of her career, Davis, 60, said:
1. Organization charts and their main players
2. Organizational politics
3. Importance of going to work-related social events
4. Making people aware of what you want to do
5. Reading a lot about a lot of different things
Host Tyrone Taborn, publisher of Women of Color magazine and the founder of the Women of Color STEM Conference said though there are outstanding women in the defense industry such as Phebe Novakovic, CEO of aerospace and defense giant General Dynamics, and Marillyn Hewson, chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin the world’s biggest defense company, he doesn’t see too many women breaking through the glass ceiling.
Davis noted that there have been a lot of good changes since she joined the workforce in the 1970s.
“Women are moving up, like Ursula Burns (chairman and CEO of Xerox), more comfortable making decisions and companies have become a lot better with family and career.” Davis said, but she added that there are things that could be holding women back. She shared 10 tips to help move women forward:
1. Take challenging stretch assignments, whether lateral or promotion.
2. Learn how to handle pop ups (crises) that come your way.
3. Find diverse mentors and sponsors. Get a sponsor who will wear your tee-shirt (because that’s how people move in corporate America) and understand the unwritten rules.
4. Make other people part of your journey and bring people with you who are assets.
5. Extend your network. That’s why it’s important to go to social events.
6. Be comfortable with saying ‘I don’t know’
7. Learn to give your people all the credit.
8. Treat people who clean the boardroom exactly the same as those who sit in it– with courtesy and respect.
9. Your career belongs to you.
10. Never compromise your integrity.
Developing a thick skin early also helped in her career.
“I didn’t grow up where people talked about stocks round the table at night or what was going to happen in the market the next day,” Davis said, but I was fortunate to work for the first female vice president at Northrop Grumman, Suzanne Jenniches. Suzanne used to tell us ‘If you want to work in this industry and you want to be competitive, you’ve got learn how to have rhino hide–not to take anything personally.'”
Jenniches served from April 2, 2003 to 2010 as the vice president and general manager of government systems division of Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Electronic Systems sector. She was one of the first female engineers at Westinghouse Electric Company and one of the first female leaders at Northrop Grumman.
Davis said that with the right mentoring and sponsorship women can now come in and be directors and vice presidents. ‘I know a woman who became a vice president at Northrop Grumman at 37 that I’m super proud of. These changes don’t happen overnight but we can make changes.’
About a decade ago, she had observed that people come out of college wanting a “hockey stick effect”in five to 10 years they want to be a vice president. Another change she acknowledged was the shifting trend in job tenure. Davis said that one doesn’t have to stay with one company as long as she did.
“A lot of that has gone away,” she said. ‘I know colleges now teach people about changing jobs’ it depends on the individual but don’t burn bridges,’ she said. ‘D o a 1-5 year plan, understand your goals, plan out a career path, have a performance review, and move forward and be successful.” Davis also advised women to find ways to let people to know you have a seat at the table and not make you invisible.
She encouraged STEM professionals to go out and make a difference.
“That’s why I like to go out and mentor girls.”
She also said the WOC STEM Conference brought a lot of value. “You find out what other companies are doing which gives perspective. Use the conference to put something in and get something out,’ she said.