Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



April/May 2011

Diversity/Careers April/May 2011 Issue

Women of color in IT
Aerospace & defense
Insurance IT
Manufacturing tech
Civil engineering
BEYA conference

Veteran-owned companies
WBENC conference preview
News & Views
Regional roundup
Supplier diversity

Diversity in action
News & Views

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Diversity In Action

AAI targets folks leaving the services; diversity is in demand

"We want to bring in people thinking outside the box, looking at new ways to develop our products; that's what our customers expect," says an HR director

Diversity director Susan Lee: “An exciting time in defense contracting.” It's an exciting time in defense contracting, says Susan Lee, director of diversity at Textron Systems. The demand for diversity means that Textron and companies like it target folks leaving the armed services.

"The services are more diverse than ever before. It's an opportunity for defense contractors, which probably aren't the most diverse organizations, to become more diverse," Lee says.

That's the thinking at AAI Corp, a company under the Textron Inc umbrella that offers products and services including unmanned aircraft systems and ground control technologies.

There's a strong focus on information assurance and network engineering at AAI, says Jennifer Hervy, HR director for AAI's unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program. The company is recruiting heavily for people who have worked with AAI products or trained on them in the military, and also looking for new college grads, she says.

"People who have worked in an area focused on future technology really will be set apart," she notes. "We're looking for people thinking outside the box, looking at new ways of developing our products. That's what our customers expect."

AAI became an operating unit of Textron Systems, a Textron Inc company, in late 2007. Besides its Hunt Valley, MD HQ it has key operating facilities in Charleston, SC; Huntsville, AL; Austin, TX and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. These and its field offices around the country support various defense industry customer bases and requirements.

Each Textron Systems unit does unique work, Hervy notes. The Overwatch business unit, for example, is developing applications for smartphones, working with AAI in Hunt Valley and Huntsville.

Anna-Maria Palmer, VP of HR at AAI, says recruiting is done at "enterprise-targeted" schools: Penn State, U Texas-Austin and Georgia Tech; and Textron Systems target Virginia Tech and Northeastern University. HBCUs are also targeted, including Morgan State University, Howard and Coppin State. All told, fifteen percent of recent new hires were new grads, Hervy reports.

In the unmanned aircraft system venue there were 150 hires last year, twenty-one of them interns. The Huntsville site, admittedly modest, doubled in size from twelve to twenty-four people in 2010, and this year it's looking for more level 1 engineers. AAI also recruits from colleges for R&D; people.

A new recruiting source for AAI is the Black Professional Men (BPM) network, a Baltimore organization that identifies high-talent young African American men. Several employees belong to the network, and AAI works with the group. In fact, the company has been involved with BPM for four years and has offered internships to some scholarship recipients.

AAI has an in-house employee engagement council that makes recommendations on what AAI can do to keep employees interested. One sponsored event was a Veterans' Day panel where employees from various branches of the military talked about how their former military experience complements their current roles at AAI.

The Women's Employee Network, a subset of the engagement council, also launches new-hire activities. Recent employees have a monthly lunch meeting where they can ask questions, and the group has sponsored events for the promotion or advocacy of women. "This is helping AAI achieve visibility and recognition; women candidates can identify with an organization that advocates for them," Palmer says.

AAI also participates in SWE through employees who host local chapter meetings, and the company has recruited at SWE conferences.

There are multiple diversity councils in Textron Systems itself, Lee points out. A diversity council steering committee at the executive level is chaired by the president and CEO. Senior leaders also guide individual business councils. "I hold a monthly call with executive champions and leads, and I connect with the steering committee," Lee says.

Enterprise-wide Textron University provides a class on the power of inclusion for supervisors and above, and last year Textron Defense Systems piloted non-managerial sessions as well. "The pilot was successful. Hundreds of leaders and individual contributors participated," Lee notes.

Outside of work employees are active with a local high school's FIRST Robotics club, volunteering after work to help students prepare for the competition. One engineer even traveled with the kids on company time. AAI also helps other area high schools finance their robotics teams.

Employees help less fortunate families at Christmas; they have provided gifts for disadvantaged kids in the Baltimore County school system for fifty-five years. Another community tradition is an employee holiday dinner where everyone brings a toy for a kid.

AAI offers employees a work-life balance menu: a choice of compressed workweeks or a 9-80 work schedule, Palmer says. Telecommuting is sometimes available.

Last fall AAI completed its "Textron Connect" mentoring program, designed by Menttium. "We had twenty-four pairs, primarily engineers," Hervy says. The program will kick off again this year.

Employees can also participate in a management assessment program, and there's an active referral program as well, where an employee can get a hefty reward for referring good people.


AAI Corp, a Textron Systems operating unit
AAI Corp,
a Textron Systems operating unit

Headquarters: Hunt Valley, MD
Employees: 2,500
Revenues: Nearly $2 billion in 2009 for parent company Textron Systems
Business: Aerospace and defense products

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