Over the years, many industries have taken an active approach in diversifying their workforce and making them more inclusive, especially in STEM-related fields. The Aerospace & Defense industry is just one of the industries that is still striving to achieve more balance. Currently, only 24 percent of aerospace industry employees are women, according to the 2018 Aviation Week Work Force Study. Even more concerning, only 21 percent of the executive payroll is represented by women. In an effort to open the doors to more women in the executive suite, a new initiative, WILL Rise has been launched by aerospace industry leaders.

Women in Line Leadership (WILL) Rise, kicked off earlier this year by bringing together 60 women executives from the Aerospace & Defense industry to collaborate on how to address the current leadership gender gap. Connected Aviation Today had the opportunity to sit down with one of the participating members in this new initiative, Julie Davids, Director of Engineering, Avionics for Collins Aerospace, to talk about what was accomplished, what participating means to her, and how the initiative will continue to evolve. Here is what she had to say:

CAT Editors: Tell us about the WILL Rise initiative. How did it come together? 

Julie Davids, Director of Engineering, Avionics for Collins Aerospace

Julie Davids: WILL Rise was started by two line-leaders in United Technologies. One was a new General Manager (GM) looking for some mentoring. She was connected with a more experienced GM. Together, they realized that there was a need for a forum to help women grow into leadership roles. It’s a unique initiative in that it spans quite a massive organization, including Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney.

The initiative kicked off with a two-day event full of workshops and presentations. Sixty-four women attended, divided into about 10 groups of women, called learning pods. Each pod has an executive coach and executive sponsor. The initiative continues with monthly executive coaching and quarterly face-to-face sessions with your pods. 

CAT Editors: What does it mean to you to be part of this organization? 

Julie Davids:  For me, it’s two-fold really. First, it’s about the networking opportunities. Being located in Annapolis, within one of the smallest organizations and relatively new to the corporation, it can be difficult to make connections. The kickoff event occurred shortly after the acquisition of Rockwell Collins by United Technology and it was a great opportunity to make connections across the larger organization. Secondly, the coaching and mentoring to move to the next level, or to decide if I want to move to the next level, is invaluable. 

CAT Editors: Why is this an important issue for organizations like Collins Aerospace? 

Julie Davids: Companies and shareholders recognize the value of diversity. Women represent one aspect of this diversity and are underrepresented at the highest levels in aviation. This initiative helps identify, groom, and expose more women to executive positions.  

CAT Editors: What are your main priorities as part of this organization? 

Julie Davids: We are looking to explore what is really required to be an effective GM and learn more about our company to identify cost and revenue synergies. Personally, I also want to identify management and leadership practices to bring to my current organization.

CAT Editors: How do you see this initiative evolving in the future/your involvement evolving in the future?

Julie Davids: The first year has structured activities. These activities will provide exposure to day-to-day activities of GM. This will help me define my path forward and will help all of us hit the ground running if we have opportunities to advance. We will already be exposed to Line Level thinking and have a pre-built network of peers to consult on challenges. I think the initiative will grow in size and my involvement will continue as a potential sponsor, an advocate for young talent, and evangelist for line leadership as path for women. I’m very excited to part of an initiative that provides this type of opportunity to women. 

Shany Seawright

About Shany Seawright

A senior executive at Strategic Communications Group and Managing Editor of Connected Aviation Today, as well as other publications, Seawright oversees the editorial direction of the publication and managed the editorial staff.