RoundupReads Women In Leadership: Engineering’s Ambitious Leadership Cohort

Women In Leadership: Engineering’s Ambitious Leadership Cohort

by Noah Michelsohn | 2021-03-24

NASA’s Johnson Space Center continues the celebration of Women’s History Month by highlighting the Engineering Directorate’s upcoming Women in Leadership program, which is helping to develop the next generation of NASA’s leaders.

Sometimes one small step is all it takes to drive lasting change. This was the case for the Engineering Directorate’s Women in Leadership program, which was started after a mid-level manager inquired about providing leadership training for more women in the directorate.

That conversation with Julie Kramer White, who at the time was serving as Deputy Director (but has since become the Director of Engineering), spurred discussions with Human Resources resulting in leadership training being brought in for mid-level managers in Engineering.

The associated training received very positive feedback and multiple organizations decided to piggy-back onto same training session. So, what was originally intended to be EA training, became center training. Engineering decided to take the training further by forming a Women in Leadership cadre within the directorate.

To ensure that this cadre of Women in Leadership initiative was successful, Engineering Associate Director Carolyn Fritz was assigned to serve as the champion. After spending 38 years in federal service, working her way from technical to line management and eventually into a senior leadership role, Fritz was the perfect selection as champion for this cadre.

“Throughout my career, I have seen the barriers and challenges to success that women and other underrepresented groups often face, so I have made it one of my goals to work in addressing those obstacles,” Fritz said. “By helping to develop the core skills and competencies required to be more competitive for leadership positions, we can serve as the catalyst to ensuring that every member of our workforce has an equal opportunity to succeed.”

Building on the success that was realized with the initial cadre, the directorate is now implementing Women in Leadership 2.0. This new iteration will expand the opportunity to early and mid-career employees focused on Women of Color (WoC) across the directorate to determine areas that could benefit from additional diversity in leadership as it is proven that diverse leaders create stronger teams.

With their champion in place, the Women in Leadership 2.0 WoC cadre will begin to focus on several areas of leadership development. The program will include a training component, being assigned a mentor within the directorate, a service project, and a stretch/rotational assignment within the directorate to expand their skillset.

“The Women in Leadership 2.0 program is unique in that it is an internal program focused on developing EA women to become better equipped to compete for leadership positions in the future while, at the same time, developing a network of trusting relationships within the cadre and with other leaders across the directorate,” Fritz said.

This program exemplifies the center’s goal to recruit and maintain top talent from across the nation. To maintain its leadership position in the emerging space economy, Johnson is focused on developing critical experience and championing innovation as outlined in the Dare. Unite. Explore guiding principle of Game Changers.

We Want That, Too

For others across the center who are interested in implementing a similar program in their directorate, Fritz says that although it is not always easy, her best advice is to be intentional and take the first step of bringing the idea up to management.

“This is where I think representation of diversity matters,” Fritz said. “Employees feel more comfortable approaching someone in their peer group; however, if that is not available, team members should feel empowered to communicate with their leadership to suggest initiatives, like this one, that can be instrumental in nurturing career development and growth. Grass cannot grow without first planting the seed!”

NASA has already planted flags on the Moon. The next time we visit the lunar surface, women will be there, sinking their boots in the Moon dust alongside their crewmates. But, in order to add more giant leaps for women on the ground, programs like Women in Leadership WoC rely on a diversified approach to helping employees with potential become employees who lead. And sometimes … it really does begin with one small step.

The inaugural Women in Leadership cadre members can be seen below: