Northrop Grumman understands the importance of role models

Northrop Grumman understands the importance of role models

 April 02, 2019

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Linda Cureton is the founder and CEO of Muse Technologies, Incorporated. A thought leader and known strategic innovator, Linda’s 38 plus years of public service ensure Muse delivers responsive solutions in Leadership, Program Management & Organizational Development.  

She shares her insights into the power of role models, her passion about providing these role models to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers and why Northrop Grumman understands the benefit of a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Dreaming of being a female astronaut 

As a young girl, one of Linda's favorite television programs was 'I Dream of Jeannie,' a 1960s television show about a male astronaut who had a beautiful but impetuous female genie.

"I didn’t want to be the genie; I wanted to be the astronaut and fly to the moon," says Linda. "But I had never seen a near-sighted African-American female astronaut. My dream was seemingly cut short before it even began. I eventually did make my way to NASA, and now I’m passionate about providing role models for girls in STEM."

Improving the representation of women in STEM

Fifty-seven years after real-life 'Hidden Figures' Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan were involved in the United States moon landing, NASA announced the appointment of Holly Ridings as its first female flight director. Linda asks - given the importance of this achievement for women in STEM, why did it take nearly six decades for this to happen?

As the former NASA Chief Information Officer, a mathematician and woman, Linda is passionate about doing everything she can do to help better the representation of women in STEM disciplines.

"The measures organizations like NASA have taken to close the gaps are necessary but insufficient if we as individuals do not do our part. First, we must examine our individual biases as barriers to gender inclusion," explains Linda.

"Next, regardless of our gender, we must serve as role models for girls and young women to encourage them to pursue STEM. Finally, we need to care and to understand that our society has a challenge to overcome and that we can contribute to the solution."

Challenging gender biases 

Linda tells the story of a girl called Sydni who she was tutoring in 8th grade algebra. She was a good student who loved math and knew the course content well. Linda explains that, when it came to assignments and tests, she lacked confidence.

"I worked closely with her, and over time, her confidence increased. Eventually she told me that her teacher had noticed that she was improving but had discouraged her from studying mathematics in college, telling her instead that she needed to study something like English. Sadly, she took his advice: Sydni did not pursue mathematics," says Linda.

Linda cites a recent study by Wang and Degol that reveals that the proportion of female STEM employees is much lower than the proportion of women scoring very high on the standardized tests used to find talented STEM professionals.

"Why would the teacher discourage Sydni if not for some unconscious bias that dictated that only boys study STEM?" asks Linda. "We must all, especially teachers, examine these biases that affect our interactions to ensure that we are encouraging, not discouraging, young girls, and not adversely affecting the STEM pipeline."

The importance of representation in STEM

Linda explains that, in January 2018, Airbnb hired Kenneth Chenault as its first African-American board member. At that time, they also promised to hire a woman onto its all-male board of directors, a promise which they met. In August of the same year, Ann Mather became their first female board member.

"Many successful female executives aspire for board memberships, but we see too few examples of those who have made that achievement," says Linda. "The actions of board chairmen like Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky made a difference by providing this opportunity to Mather, making clear that representation matters."

"Diversity and inclusion provide societal benefits that should matter to us all. Corporations like Northrop Grumman, with programs like their Inclusive Leadership Conference, see the benefit of a commitment to diversity and inclusion," she adds. "However, creating a leadership culture that executes upon this commitment is critical. Leaders in power need to see and believe that gender diversity makes a difference."

She goes onto add that Jocelyn Bell Burnell was recently awarded a $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize for her work on discovering pulsars. She was overlooked for the Nobel Prize in 1974 even though her male counterparts were recognized for the work she had done. Now, Bell Burnell is taking personal initiative and giving her money to help underrepresented groups go into the field of physics.

Making an individual difference

Linda understands the importance of corporations fighting for diversity and inclusion, but individuals can make a difference too.

"Starting with continuous self-reflection on our own biases, we can be role models or give visibility to role models to provide encouragement for those young girls who wish to pursue careers in STEM," explains Linda. 

"These steps require passion and commitment to overcome barriers. Robert F. Kennedy once said that not many of us “will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events.” Perhaps the gender gap seems daunting, but if we take these small steps, we can have an impact for women in STEM."

Committed to forging STEM careers for girls

Northrop Grumman is deeply committed to supporting women and girls in STEM.

The company is a sponsor of Expanding Your Horizons and this event in Clearfield in Utah saw more than 400 girls grades 6-9 in attendance (pictured below).

NorthropGrumman ExpandingHorizons

Join talented women at Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman is a prime employer for women and leads the way in shattering perceptions about women technologists. If you want to join talented women at Northrop Grumman, search and apply for many fabulous career opportunities. 


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