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A&D’s workforce: closing the gap on diversity and inclusion

23 April, 2019

Robert Ginzel
Director, PwC US
John Karren
Industrial Products People & Organization Leader, PwC US

CEOs in the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) sector know they need to keep forging ahead with their diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives. Yet, the percentage of women in the A&D workforce has been stuck at around 24 percent since 2014 (with a slight dip in 2016). The percentage of female executives and the percentage of female engineering executives declined from 2017 to 2018, after rising a year earlier. And while the percentages on the hiring of diverse groups increased last year, no single group topped 10%.1

With a strong economy and low unemployment rate, A&D is competing for managerial, technology, and engineering skills with many other industries. As US demographics shift, with proportionally more non-white, foreign-born, and female employees in the US workforce, it will further diminish A&D’s traditional talent pool and intensify the need to expand hiring the talent pool.

Some A&D companies are stepping up in dramatic ways. Female CEOs now lead three top US defense firms, bucking the overall decline at Fortune 500 companies,2 and another company has had a woman heading one of its major businesses since 2016. These women have an opportunity to make a real difference in D&I and provide role models for women coming up the ranks. Two of these female CEOs recently won the Catalyst award for their work in promoting D&I.3

These female-led companies as well as some others in the sector are making a major effort to embed D&I as a core business goal. They are following five key actions that help make D&I initiatives successful:

  1. Leading from the top. Board and CEO commitment to D&I has to be reflected in the organization’s overall business strategy, values, and culture. While many CEOs say they are supportive of D&I, workforce data indicates a gap between what is said and what is done. In 2017, a global A&D company issued an annual report on global D&I initiatives at the company. One notable best practice—increasing accountability by appointing a chief diversity officer responsible for overseeing D&I.
  2. Measuring outcomes. Another way of increasing accountability is to get a benchmark or starting point, set a goal, and measure how far you’ve come. By using expanding analytics capabilities, companies can get a handle on which programs, divisions, and managers are moving the needle on D&I. One leading-edge tactic is to tie specific D&I goals to compensation and promotions.
  3. Supporting employee groups. Employee groups provide opportunity for sharing common concerns and advocating for positive changes to D&I policies. Several large A&D companies have created groups centered on affinity (race, gender, veterans, sexual orientation) as well as cross-functional, business area groups that facilitate implementation of D&I initiatives.
  4. Sharing efforts. D&I successes are being replicated from one part of an organization to another. This can happen across global borders, locally, or cross-functionally. Often, successful initiatives are shared in large group meetings, conferences, or small group discussions. A major A&D company holds a Women’s Conference every two years at which speakers discuss initiatives that have helped to support the growth of women at the organization.
  5. Partnering with outside groups. As the labor market tightens, companies that nurture relationships with outside groups, such as educational institutions and national professional groups, have a better chance of attracting diversity. In 2017, one company participated in 19 outreach events, including conferences and career fairs.

Successful D&I programs have to come from the top-down and the bottom-up. Senior management has to show its commitment through voice and deed. Employees have to buy into the importance of a diverse workforce and support that vision through both day-to-day actions and participation in employee-led initiatives.

1. Hedden, Carole. “A&D Shifts Focus to Reskilling, Recruiting, Reshaping Workforce.” Aviation Week, 13 Sept. 2018.
2. Sonnenfeld, Jeffrey. “Female CEOs Taking Control Of A Male-Dominated Industry.” Chief Executive, 18 July 2019,
3. Masunaga, Samantha. “In aerospace industry, female execs soar to the top.” The Bulletin, 8 Aug. 2018.