An interview on how to build the STEM talent pool
An interview on how to build the STEM talent pool
This video and the following Q&A do not depict the entire interview.
Executive leaders play a crucial role in attracting talent to their company as well as expanding the overall talent pool. Northrop Grumman’s CEO Kathy Warden talks about the efforts she’s leading to address the STEM crisis, her relation with her head of HR and advice for a new CEO.
Kathy Warden is chair, chief executive officer and president of Northrop Grumman. She was elected chair of the Northrop Grumman board of directors in 2019, and has served as CEO and president since 1 January 2019. She was elected to the company’s board of directors in 2018.
We have thought of disruption as much as an opportunity as we have seen it as a challenge. So we took the opportunity — shortly after the pandemic started — to focus on our employee safety and well-being. That led us to look at our values and our leadership behaviors through a new lens and reevaluate those and reestablish them in this new environment.
We also took the opportunity to really think through what it is that we need to do to help people establish and maintain a sense of belonging at our company. And that included everything from focusing on our employee experience to looking at career development and training opportunities in the company so that people didn’t just thrive at work, they could thrive in their lives. The work that we’ve done over the last couple of years has really helped us to establish a sense of engagement with our employees that I don’t think we would have been able to do had we not seen some of that disruption in the environment.
One of the most difficult things that we are still undertaking is focusing on people’s abilities and skills rather than just degrees and credentials. And that’s a culture change in our organization. We have a tremendous amount of engineering talent in our organization and many of them came into their positions through a series of degrees, including advanced degrees and credentialing. That was the established norm. And now we want to create new pathways. There is really a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) crisis in this country (U.S.), where science, technology, engineering and math skills are not being attained at the level that we need them to be to thrive in this country, and so we want to fill that gap. But the only way to fill that gap is to create pathways for people other than those more traditional ways of doing so.
So we’ve embarked on this work, and many other companies are doing the same. I think it’s so important that we all recognize that our role is not just to pull talent into our organizations to meet our needs, but to increase that talent pool overall. That means getting started early with young people and showing them that a career path in STEM can be incredibly rewarding, and it really is a path for lifelong learning that we as companies will support.
I’ve talked to employees who say it’s exhausting working in technology because every handful of years there are just new skills they have to learn and they feel like they’re constantly reeducating themselves. We owe it to our employees to provide the mechanisms to do that and to make that easy for them. That will not only help them be better employees for us, but it’ll help them to thrive in life, and we’re very committed to that. I hope that many of my peers recognize our responsibility as corporations, not just to fill our own current talent pool, but to create that sustainable long term talent pool in tech.
I think people and the skills that people need are going to be a resource that we have to focus on with sustainability strategies, just like we’re focused on energy and water and other natural resources. People are probably the most important resource, particularly from our company’s perspective that we need a sustainable pipeline for, and we want to do our part to create it. So it’s been a tough journey, to be honest, to create that culture change within our organization, to embrace skills and abilities rather than just degrees and credentials. But it’s well worth it.
Part of our strategy with our people is making sure they have ways to get involved in the community and that we bring their community work into the work of the company. So volunteerism is an important priority for many of our people. We recognize our employees who give in the community of time and resources and we celebrate that. Alongside them, we also create ways for our employees to get involved in their community. If it’s not something they’re already doing, we run many programs through our corporate responsibility office that connect people and their passions with the needs of their community.
Talent is our highest priority and that’s because as a technology company we need to innovate on a regular basis. And the ideas for that innovation, the ability to engineer new solutions, comes from our people. So our people strategy has to support our business strategy and our business strategy is core to our people.
I spend a good deal of time thinking about our people, engaging with our people, working with our human resources team to think about ways to improve our employee experience in the company, and also to get to know the talent who will be the future leaders in this company. We have town halls, and I find those very informative because the questions people ask often are the things that are top of mind for them and it gives me insight. I also mentor employees in our organization and those are really in-depth conversations. You often hear leaders say that their mentees are also, in turn, a mentor to them because they give you a view from a level in the organization that you don’t get to experience every day yourself. And I find those conversations incredibly valuable.
My head of HR sits right across the hall from me and she and I regularly are in discussions about talent placement and people’s development, because as I said, it’s a priority in our company. We know that people are our key value driver.
It’s a terrific partnership. She knows that she can come to me and tell me what I need to know about the employee experience and how we can improve upon it. We try to have a very open and candid conversation about what needs to be done, and her team does a lot of data analytics, but we also complement that data-driven decision making with instincts. She has fantastic instincts about what people are feeling, and that sensing is really important to me to help make good decisions.
I generally ask her view on our people and she is a great reader of talent and looks through a different lens. She also helps to complement that with the behaviors, and we believe that it’s important to look at particular leadership roles through that lens of who can help further our culture and development, not just get the work done, but focus on how the work gets done.
I would say create an environment where people can come to you, including your head of HR, but anyone on your leadership team and tell you like it is. Be transparent, be candid and pride yourself on the culture that you’ve created, but also know that there’s always room for improvement; and so in order to improve, you need to be real about the environment. Particularly as we live through what is, I think, one of the most dynamic times in my experience, you have to be open to not “setting and forgetting” when it comes to talent strategy, but setting and evolving. That means keeping an open ear to the ground, both from your employees and your leadership team, about how the culture is evolving and how you can continue to work and prove it.
Instrumenting your talent strategy is just as important as knowing your financial status on a regular basis. The second thing that is important is that the talent strategy needs to be owned by the business leaders. Our HR team is incredibly valuable in providing insights to create that strategy with the ultimate ownership for our people as the leaders of the business for which they work.
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