Women Need Pathfinders to Serve as Role Models.

Author:Mccaffrey, Rachel

An internal Hewlett Packard study found men will apply for a job or promotion if they meet approximately 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent. Reading the results, I wondered whether the survey provided a partial explanation for why men continue to out-number women at senior levels in the Defense Department and within the industry.

I decided to highlight the study during Women In Defense events, hoping to encourage women to apply for more senior positions, if only to avoid working for a less-qualified man. However, while discussing the study with a senior human resources executive at Raytheon, he told me highlighting the study was "necessary but insufficient." Raytheon has learned in addition to encouragement, women need to see an example of another woman who has succeeded in the position or a very similar role. Women need pathfinders.

I don't know if it's possible to develop pathfinders. Pathfinders not only make the way for others, they also make themselves. Of course, they can be encouraged and nurtured but pathfinders require innate potential in order to ultimately serve as game-changing role models. While there are likely many characteristics common to pathfinders, I believe the characteristics must include perseverance, self-confidence and creativity. The amazing career of retired Navy Rear Adm. Grace Hopper demonstrates how those characteristics enabled her trailblazing Navy success. And her success continues to inspire generations of women to choose computer science and military service as their vocations.

Hopper required perseverance simply to serve in the Navy. Her great-grandfather, a Navy admiral, fought in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. So, it was not surprising when in 1940 Hopper attempted to enlist. However, the Navy rejected her due to her age, thin build and her valuable research as a mathematics professor at Vassar. Hopper refused to give up.

Three years later, in 1943, she took a leave of absence from Vassar and joined the Navy Reserves, despite needing a waiver for low weight. She graduated first in her Naval Reserve Midshipmen's class and the Navy assigned her to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard. Despite excellent, impactful work on the Mark I computer program, the Navy turned down her request to transfer to the regular Navy at the end of the war due to her age. Again, Hopper refused to accept the rejection, turning down a full professorship...

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