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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Has the glass ceiling shattered?

My reaction to the news that Hewlett-Packard Co. had tapped Marilyn Crouther to lead their U.S. public sector business might reflect my own biases, but I couldn’t help noticing that Crouther is a woman leading a large business in the government market.

Actually, I should say she’s another woman running a big government contracting operation.

Among the top 20 contractors on the Washington Technology Top 100, women lead the public sector business of six of them.

Three of the top five companies – Lockheed Martin Corp. at No. 1, Northrop Grumman Corp. at No. 2, and Raytheon Co. at No. 4 – have women leaders for their IT businesses.

The high profile of women among these large companies belies the joke we have at my office about MAWGs. MAWGs, or middle-aged, white guys, seem to be the predominant population when we attend industry events and often are our most common sources for stories. I cringe when I flip through a print issue and just see page after page of white guys being quoted.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it is refreshing to see strong, smart women in leadership positions.

While there is no arguing with success of women in the top 20, the numbers from 21 through 50, don’t look that great with only three more companies having a woman leading their public sector business – IBM Corp. at No. 21, Accenture at No. 33 and CGI Group at No. 41.

So the numbers aren’t reflective of the general population, but it is better than 10 years ago when only one company in the top 50 had a woman running at least the federal business. That was Anne Altman, who was the managing director of IBM’s federal unit in 2001, and today runs their global government business.

I also see a growing number of women entrepreneurs in the small and mid-sized ranks of companies, so I think we’ll continue to see more women leaders emerge at the CEO level.

As I watch this evolution, I can’t help but think of my mom, who really was the brains behind our family business. She had a natural aptitude for controlling costs and managing people at the family restaurant. Without her, it would never have been the success it was.

But at the same time, I also saw too many vendors and would-be partners turn to my father to talk about business. To dad’s credit, he always pulled mom in on those discussions. My parents had and have a great husband-wife partnership.

My parents sold the restaurant 20 years ago now and times definitely have changed since then.

But again, I ask the question from my headline: In the government market has the glass ceiling shattered? Or is it just cracking?

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 19, 2011 at 9:34 AM

Reader Comments

Thu, Dec 22, 2011

For years now it's been in vogue to claim the glass ceiling is responsible for women not reaching the very top. And your article seems to imply that there is some gender/class (prosecuted by white males) warfare happening that might prevent women from obtaining the top spots. Give me a break. Women make different choices than men. There have been several studies conducted over the past decade that show women are more likely than men to choose lower roles because they put more emphasis on family and child-rearing and opt for a better work-life balance (this data point alone could prove women's superior intelligence). Opting out is a good choice for some women. More often than not, men do not have a choice. Many C-Level positions are filled by people who have gone through line functions or finance operations. Men have a higher interest in line operations than women do. And as companies are looking for top executives and members of boards, it becomes a self-perpetuating country club. When you want a new C.E.O., you want someone who has had C.E.O. experience. And when you want a chief financial officer, you want someone who has been one. There is so little diversity in those populations. So companies need to think about how they can get more diversity in the pool. And companies need better succession planning, both at the C.E.O. and board level, in which they think more conscientiously about bringing in a broader range of people. On the other hand, The "protected" classes need to take more personal responsibility if they have C-level aspirations. Find a mentor. Get more line experience. Take "extra credit" assignments. In this century, in this economy, the hard truth is s this: CEO's could care less whether an executive has a y chromosome. They want their executives priorities not to be work-life balance, but rather, helping their company to maximize wealth for its share holders. And as the old axiom goes, you can't have it both ways.

Wed, Dec 21, 2011

Judging by the number of women who are columnists for Washington Technology, I would say no.

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 Rosemarie Estrada

Great observations. There are many incredibly talented women running big businesses inside federal contracting environments. Accenture Government, Amazon Public Sector, Acquisition Solutions are a few others to add to the list. It is a fantastic shift in the tides. Let's applaud these organizations for thinking beyond the box and selecting the very best individual for the leadership chair.

Tue, Dec 20, 2011

As a female engineer, I don't even see the glass ceiling beginning to crack. Your article is powerful testimony to how both women and men can not only coexist, but also empower each other and their corporations.

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 K.G. Scheessele Charlotte, NC

Nick: Shattered, no. But the ceiling has lots of cracks and can be broken in our lifetime. Women tend to be too patient, but that's changing too.

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