On Friday, October 23, 2015, Northrop Grumman Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President Wes Bush addressed the Society of Women Engineers Annual Conference at the Nashville (TN) Music City Convention Center. Below are his remarks.

Diversity, Innovation and Our Future

I'm delighted to be here today. I have been looking forward to speaking with you – especially because I have the opportunity to address a topic I personally feel to be of great importance – the relationship between diversity, innovation, and our future in the world.

But let me begin by recognizing the organization that works tirelessly to advance this relationship and to educate our nation on its importance. The Society of Women Engineers is the right organization, at the right time, and led by the right people.

Northrop Grumman is proud to be associated with SWE, and we are proud to claim as our own some of the society's leaders, past and present.

SWE has a tremendously positive impact.

I can say that we are a better company due to the impact of the women engineers in our organization; including the women engineers who lead our business sectors, our programs and our key functions – women engineers who have been involved with SWE for many years.

We have made a great deal of progress in benefiting from the incredible leadership of the women in our company, as has the nation as a whole. But, like our nation itself, our company can benefit even more from the impact of women and we are determined to achieve that potential. The Society of Women Engineers will be front and center in our continued efforts.

So let me focus on this important topic of innovation.

I firmly believe that our nation, our economy and in many ways, our world will succeed or fail based on the quality and creativity of our innovation. And innovation thrives on diversity; diversity of thought, background, perspective, culture, gender, age and many other factors.

The fact is that until, and unless, we attract and leverage the brainpower of the smartest people, including those who may not have initially been interested in becoming engineers, our innovative capability falls short of what it could be.

And that is why we need to attract the smartest women in the country and in other countries to follow the engineering career path.  Our success or failure in achieving this has broad leverage over the future of humankind.

This is because ours is an innovation-driven world, an innovation-based economy, and our national and economic security rests on a foundation of innovation. Consider just some of the challenges facing us today. From the perspective of national security, we are addressing:

  • A resurgence of terrorism;
  • A resurgence of Russian aggression;
  • An expansive China;
  • An erratic North Korea and an ambitious and expansive Iran;

In addition, we are seeing:

  • Cyber attacks that seem to mount in number and severity by the day.

To that list we can add global concerns over:

  • Energy;
  • Disease;
  • And human sustainability on a planet that is beginning to struggle to support our ever-increasing numbers.

These are big, complicated issues that affect billions of people. Solutions to these problems require innovative thought – new ways to keep ahead of the threats this world presents us, both natural and human.

Innovation, and the technology that underlies it, is a core enabler for solutions to all those problems. But, innovation doesn't simply happen.  It needs to be supported and cultivated. It must be grown organically, from the ground up. It cannot be directed from the top down. And it only happens when bright, committed people converge.

What does that mean to technology companies like Northrop Grumman?

Well, in the aerospace and defense industry, we have a great heritage of attracting many of the “best and brightest” our nation has to offer. But given the challenges our world is facing, we must reach higher to attract even more brilliant people into these fields.

Let me give you a couple of examples of the work brilliant people in our company are doing.

The James Webb Space Telescope is essentially a time machine. We are building a space telescope for NASA that will be able to look 14 billion years back in time.  It is set to launch in 2018 and will replace the Hubble space telescope.  

JWST is an amazing engineering accomplishment.  When we started there were some eleven or so new inventions we needed to accomplish.  This satellite is ten times larger than Hubble and a hundred times more powerful.

Whereas Hubble orbits the earth about 350 miles above the surface, this new machine will need to be so light-sensitive that it will have to operate at a temperature near absolute zero, requiring it to be positioned at a location known as a LaGrange point about a million miles away from Earth.

To take us back to the birth of the universe, this new machine will require bi gger mirrors – so big, in fact, that they will have to fold up to fit in the rocket fairing for launch. And then, once on orbit, robotically deploy into perfect position.

And they will have to be incredibly smooth – an accuracy standard of less than a billionth of an inch. The instruments that work with these mirrors will have to be able to detect the energy of a photon particle that began its journey 14 billion years ago. When this system is deployed, it is expected to re-write the textbooks on our knowledge of our universe.

UCAS-D is another amazing engineering accomplishment. This is a robotic aircraft that was the first to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier.  What makes this even more difficult is this is a cranked kite aircraft.  In other words it doesn't have a tail.  No pilot has even landed a tailless aircraft on an aircraft carrier.

These are hard problems. Here's another hard problem:

Many of the best and brightest talent out there are often choosing to study something other than science, technology, engineering and math. And a huge percentage of those talented resources making other choices are women.

We need to convince young women early on that engineering is a great way to invest their careers. And that using their technological talents in service to our nation and our world is both noble and exciting.

We seek to have those talented women applying their brilliance and creativity to solving our national problems; and to driving our security and economic prosperity through innovation. Having more women in engineering is key to being more innovative.

In today's environment, very few great achievements are attained by individuals. Most of our work is done in teams. And there is ample evidence that a diverse team beats a non-diverse team time after time.  In order to be the most innovative nation, we must leverage fully this power of diversity.

We need more women's voices, perspectives, and problem-solving abilities in engineering and certainly in the aerospace and defense community. To put it bluntly, we need you. We need your sisters, your friends, and your future daughters to take up studies in the STEM disciplines. And we need them to choose to work in STEM careers.

You are already on this path. And because you are, you have a TREMENDOUS influence on the women following behind you. So I'm putting a bit of the onus on you to encourage, to counsel, and to continue to be the role models and examples of success that you already are.

Of course, there is an onus on employers, too. There is a lot we need to do in our industries and in government agencies, to make the engineering profession more attractive to women.

But one thing is certain: The more women engineers and STEM professionals there are in leadership positions in industry, the more inclined young women will be to consider careers in STEM fields.

And the more rapidly we will be able to align the cultures of our enterprises to be more attractive to everyone.

The Society of Women Engineers certainly helps us recognize these obligations and it helps us progress.

And progress is the imperative – for many reasons. It's imperative because innovation is central to our future. It will determine the security of our nation; the vitality of our economy; and the quality of life for our children and grandchildren. And diversity of all kinds increases and improves innovation.

We know that we will be at our best when we maximize the participation of women, people of color, and all exceptional people who may not have otherwise been exposed to STEM careers.

Engineering is a great and noble profession that we want to make more available to more people. And to do that, we must continue to demonstrate the passion we have for our STEM professions to young women, and to facilitate the success and advancement of those women already established.

In this, the age of innovation, technology, and human intellectual capital, one of the most important choices we can make is to include as many talented people as possible in the fields that will enable a bright future.

The great technological advances of past, present and future are expressions in metal, circuitry, and in bits of human ingenuity, human perseverance, and human vision.

They are not so much credits to engineering as they are credits to engineers – and scientists, and mathematicians. As such, technological and scientific innovation is founded upon distinctly human characteristics – vision, inspiration, hope, moral impulses, even love of country and family.

They are the qualities that move free nations, industries, and companies forward. And they are not concentrated in any one group.

Quite the contrary.

The more diverse the group, the richer and more abundant the qualities available to the needs of innovation and technology.

And because these are human qualities, they cannot be mandated, directed or imposed. They can, however, be cultivated and encouraged.

And perhaps that is the most important way to support our innovative future.

This is a challenge for all of us to address. I am excited about the future we can create working together.

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