BAE Systems senior vice president for communications Caitlin Hayden talks with Doug Simon about the growing role that women are playing at many traditionally male-dominated companies in the latest “PR’s Top Pros Talk” video interview.

As a top executive at major defense company, Hayden has been able to see the progress that women have made from up close. “Things are changing,” she says. “I'm really lucky I get to work in a senior leadership team that is 50 percent women… It has been a fantastic experience for me, and that has taken a lot of deliberate work.“

Hayden notes that with the emergence of Lockheed Martin’s Marillyn Houston, Northrop Grumman’s Kathy Warden, Boeing’s Leanne Caret and General Dynamics’ Phebe Novakovic as CEOs, “you can start to see the leadership from the top.”

She stresses that making strides toward equity “is not just something you can give lip service to, not just a choice you can make at the top. The leadership and the businesses have to be invested in it. And it takes constant, constant focus.”

At BAE Systems, she tells Simon, “we realized that we needed a more sustained amount of work to make sure that women and people of color were in positions of leadership and that that was flowing all the way down.”

That included making sure women and people of color are represented on any list of candidates for a position. “In every case at a certain level you had to have a woman or person of color interviewed. Not just on paper, interviewed for the role and considered. And if that slate didn't include those people, it got sent back.”

While “increased sponsorship and mentorship” and “diversity training at the highest levels of the company on down” are key to increasing workforce diversity, she says that flexibility as regards the timing and location of work also plays a big part, especially where female employees are concerned.

Hayden also discusses the need for “creating spaces for dialogue in the company.” Part of creating those spaces, she says, is taking the time to “hear from people all across the business on topics, not just business topics, not just briefings on a program, or a contract win, but about DE&I, and what they want to see us doing, what they want from the leadership team.”

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