Lockheed Martin pushes diversity mission, ahead of Mars mission (Slideshow)

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“When you introduce fifth-grade girls who ask questions that bring you down to talk outside of the scientific jargon, it helps the engineers see it freshly from a perspective of a fifth grader,” said Lauren Rohde, Lockheed Martin community relations coordinator.

The company hosts community events each month, but this one is closer to the hearts of female Lockheed employees. “This is special because it’s the chance for us as a company to recognize and thank our engineers for working for us and then to also encourage them to give back and help build that pipeline for future engineers,” said Rohde.

The fifth-grade girls had lunch with female Lockheed Martin engineers and mentors who shared their own personal experiences from being among the few women in their technical environments.

The conversation around diversity in tech is a hot one, and yet it usually focuses on software engineers as opposed to hardware manufacturing.

“It’s introducing them to what’s here, and Lockheed Martin wants to make sure that 20 years from now, there’s not this huge gender disparity or diversity issue because we helped the students as much as we could,” said Brynn Watson, vice president for space and missile systems at Lockheed Martin.

Rebekah Nyantika, a fifth grader in attendance, said she wants to be a robotics engineer when she grows up. “This [event] makes me want to be an engineer even more because you can have fun at your job,” she said. “I like this place because it looks like people are actually having fun, and it looks like they are learning a lot while they’re doing their work.”

Vice President of Engineering Brynn Watson said young girls often believe the misconception that engineering is constrained and not creative. “It’s really all about exploring, and that’s the foundation of this — coming up with something you didn’t think could exist,” she said.

Watson has also experienced being one of a few woman in tech. “It [career] has been a roller-coaster,” she said. At Lockheed Martin, she sees a lot more males, but it’s more inspiring to her. “The statistics are scary, so I take it as my duty to dig into the community, work with girls and inspire them early so they could see in action that they could be anything they want.”

Watson is also on the board of directors at the San Jose-based YWCA’s STEM-education program TechGyrls.

The larger diversity discussion, which erupted more in the past year, played a role in creating this event, Watson said. “We need to be responsible for preparing our pipeline of employees, and we want to grow our women in the workforce — so to do that, we need to be deliberate,” she said. “It won’t happen by accident.”

It’s a discussion that goes beyond age and skin color, Watson added. “It’s about what experiences did you have as you were growing up and what your work experience is.”

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