Conventional wisdom has the defense industry pegged as a masculine domain, which would make the news this month that both Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have chosen women as their general counsel surprising.
But Susan Hackett, senior vice president and general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel, said that, although this may be the first time those two defense contracting behemoths have had women in their top legal post, "they have tended to be companies where there were a lot of very visible women in leadership over the years," especially in the areas of ethics and compliance.
Both Maryanne Lavan, the first female general counsel at Lockheed Martin who had formerly been the company's vice president of internal audit, and Sheila Cheston, named earlier this month to the GC job at Northrop Grumman, are well-known in the industry, Hackett said.
"Women have been securely at the forefront of compliance and ethics efforts in the defense industry for decades," she said. Hackett also stressed that women have had an easier time reaching the top of legal departments at Fortune 500 companies than they have at major law firms.
Lockheed Martin is based in Bethesda, Md. Northrop Grumman earlier this year announced it would move at least part of its general counsel's office to the Washington area as part of a planned relocation of its headquarters from Los Angeles. For an earlier BLT item on the move, click here.
On Monday, The National Law Journal will release its list of the most influential women lawyers in Washington.