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Women in missile defense don’t just have a seat at the table in 2020 – they are at the head of the table.

The Huntsville/Madison Chamber sponsored their first Empowering Women in Missile Defense: Panel Discussion Sept. 30 on the online platform Zoom.

Patti Dare, Raytheon Huntsville site executive, Strategic Missile Defense Requirements and Capabilities; Melissa Morrison-Ellis, program director, Raytheon Missiles & Defense; Debra Murray, Senior Targets Program operations manager, Northrop Grumman Corporation; and Lynn Troy, co-founder and CEO, Troy 7 Inc., joined moderator and WAFF 48 main anchor Liz Hurley to share the stories of their careers while also imparting advice.

“Education is key to making sure you get where you want to go and you can do anything you set your mind to,” Dare told the audience of women – and some men.

While the other women spoke from the area of working for large defense contractors, Troy spoke about the experience of starting her own company, the many hats it required and that these days she was more of a “personnel engineer.”

“We believe in empowering females in all roles that relate to missile defense support, not just the technology fields,” Troy said.

They all spoke of their experiences combating the stereotype that STEM fields were male-dominated.

“I try to encourage to not be afraid, like Patty said, it might be a man’s world in cliche but we certainly have our place at the table if we work hard enough to get there,” Troy said.

“Ten years ago, our program managers – the majority of them were male and also at the executive table,” Murray said. “Today we have multiple female program managers working with us, we have some of my co-workers are at the executive table now, so absolutely things have been changing. Women are rising up to those positions.”

When discussing challenges in the missile defense sector, Troy spoke about how the landscape has changed and now many jobs require at least five to 10 years of experience from applicants. She said contracts today are focused on experienced personnel, which will create an intelligence gap as older workers retire. Troy noted she does not think that today she would “get that chance to come through that door and prove myself as easily.”

One common thread through the panel was that all women had experienced unconscious and conscious bias toward them but they were quick to set it aside and not let it affect them internally or influence their job performance.

“I had a gentleman who … came up and told me that he couldn’t work for a woman,” Dare said. “I found that quite interesting but that didn’t stop me. I tried to help him find a job, which he did. He took the other job, the position was eliminated a few months later and he came back to me and asked if he could work for me. I said, ‘I thought you couldn’t work for a woman and I haven’t changed.’ He came back and worked for me and was one of the best employees I have ever had.”

Morrison-Ellis addressed experiences with “unconscious bias,” which are stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own awareness.

“I try to not take offense by that but lead by excellence,” Morrison-Ellis said, adding that she also supports creating a broad and diverse canvas for leadership roles.

“Having a team of penguins is not going to get the innovation that you need to solve these technical requirements. You need to have that diversity. Having just a middle-aged white male team, it is not that it is the wrong team, it is just not as good as it could be. So open the door, bring in people who don’t look like you, don’t think like you and you will advance your solution.”

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