WID’s McCaffrey: Building a strong bench gives women leadership opportunities

Rachel McCaffrey, executive director of Women In Defense, discusses the progressive climb of women in the national defense space.

ARLINGTON, VA – Three of America’s leading five defense contractors have chosen women to sit at the head of the table, a trend that should grow as more doors open for women in national security and defense jobs, Rachel McCaffrey told "Government Matters" host Francis Rose on the Sept. 5 show.

McCaffrey, executive director of Women In Defense, said women who entered college and majored in subjects like business, computer science and engineering in the 1970s and 1980s are now postured to compete for C-suite positions. They are also establishing a precedent for younger women entering the national security workforce, she said.

Northrop Grumman Corp. announced in July that Kathy Warden will assume its CEO position Jan. 1, joining Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Marillyn Hewson and General Dynamics’ Phebe Novakovic as leaders of large defense contractors.

These women have been developing their careers for years. “You’ve got to start at the lower levels” of the defense companies and agencies, said McCaffrey, herself a retired Air Force colonel who specialized in intelligence. “This gives companies and boards a good bench” from which to select new leaders.

Diversity and inclusion have become more important for defense contractors because diverse teams make better decisions, McCaffrey said, but also noted the difference between the two. Diversity, she said, results from actively recruiting women and minorities, while inclusion ensures all employees have opportunities to grow and advance.

Part of the mission of Women In Defense, an affiliate of the National Defense Industrial Association, is to encourage women to pursue careers in national security and help them hone the skills they need for success, whatever their career objectives. Some of that encouragement comes through WID’s Horizons scholarship program, which grants funding to women with a demonstrated interest in positions in defense and foreign affairs. In August, WID announced more than $131,000 in scholarship awards to 16 women, most of whom are candidates for graduate degrees.

Watch McCaffrey’s complete interview on Government Matters here.

About WID

Women In Defense (WID), a National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Affiliate, engages, cultivates and advances women in all aspects of national security. Incorporated in 1985, Women In Defense provides members a business environment for professional growth through strategic networking, education, and career development. This national alliance is comprised of women and men from industry and defense organizations of every size; all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces; Government agencies, academia, think tanks, associations, and professional services.

About NDIA

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is America's leading defense industry association promoting national security. NDIA provides a legal and ethical forum for the exchange of information between industry and government on national security issues. NDIA and its members foster the development of the most innovative and superior equipment, training, and support for warfighters and first responders through its divisions, local chapters, affiliated associations, and events. For more information, visit