Good morning and welcome to another Winning With Women Wednesday. This past week we had the incredible opportunity to interview, Ginger Wierzbanowski, Vice President, Business Development, ISR Division, for the Northrop Grumman Corporation. Within her interview she speaks of her 20+ years as a USAF veteran and gives her three best tips for success for women looking to succeed within their professional careers.
Get To Know Ginger:
Name: Ginger Wierzbanowski
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Russian-East European studies from the University of Northern Colorado and Master’s degrees in Russian-East European studies and Russian language from Florida State University.
Organization(s): Northrop Grumman Corporation
Position: Vice President, Business Development, ISR Division
Time with the organization: 5 years
Organization headquarters: Falls Church, Va.
1. Ginger, please share with us what drew you to work for Northrop Grumman?
As a USAF veteran of 20+ years, a military spouse, and more recently, 3+ years on the Joint Staff as a Civil servant …I am passionate about serving our country and giving back. When I decided to transition into the private sector, Northrop Grumman seemed like a natural fit because it serves the Defense and Intelligence Sectors.
2. Could you please describe what your current position as the Vice President, ISR Division for Northrop Grumman entails?
I serve as Vice President of Business Development for Northrop Grumman’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) division. I am responsible for global business growth for the entire ISR division portfolio. I lead tactical strategy discussions with key stakeholders, qualify our business pipeline, and prioritize the personnel and financial resources required for key pursuits. I manage the plan for future business across all market segments and coordinate all growth activities across the division’s leadership team.
3. What is Northrop Grumman’s mission/goal regarding women and diversity in the workplace?
Northrop Grumman is a committed champion of women and diversity and makes it a priority to enhance inclusion across the enterprise. Whether that’s in our employee resource groups or our heritage events, the company strives to develop a sense of community and empowerment by enabling networking, providing a support system and mentoring opportunities to facilitate career growth and development of leadership skills and community outreach. When I first looked at the NGC web site…I was really excited to see how many women hold key leadership positions throughout the company, both in core business areas and functional organizations.
4. Was it hard being a woman and climbing your way to the top to achieve your current position? If so, how did you overcome the challenges i.e. support from fellow co-workers, strong desire to succeed…? If not, have there been other women who have held your current position?
When I joined the Air Force in 1986, less than 10% of the Force was women; today that percentage has almost doubled. I knew the women that had come before me had fought hard to be accepted as soldiers/airmen and be recognized as assets to the fighting force…that understanding drove me and my peers to constantly overachieve, to pave the way for those that followed in our footsteps.
5. Have you mentored women throughout your career? If so, what are your three best tips for success?
Yes, I have mentored many women. I’d say the 3 things that are most important are….1) be technically strong in and passionate about whatever path you choose, 2) spend time on building your internal and external network, 3) always make time to help, enable and empower others.
6. What career advice do you give younger women who are climbing the ladder of success and trying to manage life/work/balance?
Be gentle on yourself. There are days when you have to be 100% work focused and days where your family must be the priority…it’s more of a juggling act…it will never be a perfect balance. Create an extended network in your neighborhood, in your workplace of people who can step in to help you keep all the “balls in the air”. Some of my day to day juggling acts could be fodder for a sitcom…but it really does work.
7. Were there ever some moments when you felt treated differently because you’re a woman?
Early on, most definitely, but I was taught to always communicate with someone when they were doing something that was inappropriate. Most of the time, the person just did not understand the impact or consequences of their actions. I took the opportunity to teach and to fix the behavior.
8. More women than men earn college degrees, and increasingly, advanced degrees. Notably, they earn almost half of advanced business degrees. Yet, women only represent 16.9 percent of board directors at Fortune 500 companies. Do you think the conversation around women and leadership is just about power? Why or Why not?
No I don’t think it’s about power. I do see an increased recognition of the need for diversity…diversity of thought, background, experiences and I think this realization will enable more women to have more opportunities at senior levels. The gap between men’s and women’s advancement to senior positions has endured, despite increasing numbers of women with credentials and experience to assume top roles and despite the efforts of many organizations to develop their high-potential female employees.
9. What are important lessons around the topic of women and leadership for you?
I spend a lot of time talking about personal initiative and self-awareness to the women I lead and mentor. For example, many women struggle to self-sell, or to self-identify themselves as the right candidate for a job opening/opportunity. I look for the right opportunities to let decision makers and leaders see my team shine, and encourage those I mentor or lead to take advantage of cross-organizational teams and tasks to enable more people at all levels to personally view their strengths.
10. What’s unusual about the culture at Northrop Grumman?
I would say something that makes us unique is our significant focus on supporting our troops and veterans. As a global security company with many DoD contracts, this would seem commonplace, but I think Northrop Grumman goes the extra mile to design and implement solutions and strategies for this community. For example, we have a program called Operation IMPACT where we focus on assisting severely wounded service members as they transition from the military to a private-sector career. The program provides wounded service members with one-on-one personalized assistance in identifying potential job opportunities as well as marketing their skills to hiring managers and recruiters inside and outside our company. I have been the advocate for this program and for the service members we hire and I’m incredibly proud that Northrop has taken the lead with this program.
11. If you were to receive an award for, “Best At ____”. How would you fill in the blank and why?
I would probably receive an award for “Best at connecting the Dots…or Best non-redundant node”. I have the ability to look at a specific research or technology project and see many ways it can be used…not just the targeted use case. I do the same thing with talent or processes…I easily see how something/someone can be evolved or applied to a myriad of things.
12. How do you hire?
I look for people that are extremely competent and driven, but also those that have very strong inter-personal skills. I look for new team mates to possess the following traits: strong passion, empathy, transparency, but most of all…someone who cares deeply about the mission we support (protecting the national security of the United States). Our mission gives our work meaning and a moral motivation.
13. What was the “Aha” moment or turning point in your life that had a direct impact on your career and leadership?
A recent example…a little over 3 years ago, shortly after joining Northrop Grumman, I was introduced to the leader of a User Experience (UX) team. This manager was buried in an organization, in Huntsville and had an amazing team of Software Engineers, Graphic artists, Mathematician’s and Illustrators…a team you’d expect to find at Apple or Google. After he gave me a presentation on some UX work he’d been doing on behalf of the Army, I was able to see a much broader application for his team and their ability to really get at the heart of customer needs and requirements. I used my network and called across the company to help get the UX or User Centered Design integrated into our everyday captures, proposals and ongoing programs. It took about a year for it to start bearing fruit, and even longer for the larger population to see the intrinsic benefit of a User Centered approach. Today, the bulk of our company sees the value and is a Defense Industry leader in applying UX. As far as my career and leadership…it made me realize how much and how many people I could positively impact, even in a large company. It also made people realize…. that we can change our company if we work together.
14. What is something you would be doing if you had just one more hour to incorporate into every day?
I would spend more time with our junior talent…they need to see it’s okay to lean forward, challenge the status quo and they need to be valued and connected to the people fabric of our company.