All three executives must reshape their firms to deal with military procurement cuts, including those recently triggered by the sequester. In her first two months at the helm of General Dynamics, for instance, Phebe Novakovic declared that the company had lost its way, halted a years-long string of new acquisitions and eliminated executive positions.
“I think it’s a chance for all of us . . . to make an imprint on an industry,” said Linda Hudson, the chief executive of the American branch of BAE, who became the first woman to lead a top U.S. defense company when she assumed the job in 2009.
She and her counterparts — including Marillyn A. Hewson at Lockheed — must prove themselves in companies that remain far more male-dominated than the economy as a whole. The defense industry has been slow to promote women to its highest levels, in part because of its close connections to the military. Many retired officers eventually become executives at contracting firms, and only recently have women been promoted to the top military posts.
The executive-compensation data firm Equilar analyzed financial filings for almost 20 of the largest publicly traded government contractors at the request of The Washington Post. The analysis found that one in eight executives at any level at those firms is a woman. In the economy at large, two of every five managers are women, and one in four chief executives is, according to the Labor Department.
“There is a dearth of female CEOs at these companies” in the defense industry, said Aaron Boyd, Equilar’s director of research. “It’s certainly trending. We’re seeing more females. But we’re certainly not at the point where anyone would say there’s not a gender gap.”
The release of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, which bemoans the lack of women leading companies, and the debate over Marissa Mayer’s telecommuting ban at Yahoo have focused attention once again on female executives.
In the broad economy, female managers earn about 71 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. That’s a 10-cent larger gap than exists across all occupations.
Female executives in the contracting industry appear to earn about the same at the median as male executives do, according to Equilar. But that’s probably because the female executives are concentrated in the largest firms in the industry, which tend to pay more. The typical female executive in defense works at a firm with revenue that is 50 percent higher than the firm where the typical male executive works, Equilar found.