In this monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers, to defense entrepreneurs.
Roshan Roeder is corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman’s Defense Systems sector. In this role, Roeder oversees delivery of a broad spectrum of missiles, tactical weapons and components, all-domain command and control architectures, integrated battle command systems, and sustainment and modernization capabilities to national security, military and civil customers. Previously, Roeder served as sector vice president and general manager of the Airborne Multifunction Sensors division for Northrop Grumman’s Mission Systems sector.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
Growing up, the careers supported culturally in my household were engineering or medicine.
My plan was to start at the intersection of both and go into the biomedical field to help people. At that time, biomedicine really wasn’t a widely offered degree at colleges. So, I chose computer engineering as the next closest thing. I knew understanding computers – both hardware and software – would apply to future needs in that industry, and it’s served me well.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t land a job right out of college in that field. Then, I heard about Northrop Grumman – a technology company focused on security and protecting our nation and its allies. It was another way to make a difference in human lives, so I joined the company and have been with Northrop Grumman for more than 20 years.
The great thing about my career is the optionality and flexibility Northrop Grumman has provided me to learn and grow every step of the way and make a difference to the country. For example, I’ve worked with numerous technologies, in multiple locations, with different customers and domains globally and commercially, and in various career fields – engineering, manufacturing, strategy and program management.
What keeps me at Northrop Grumman is our mission – to support our warfighters and allies in national security – as well as the company’s rich and transparent culture and the friendships I’ve made along the way.
What are some challenges you faced working through your career?
As you’d imagine, the aerospace and defense industry 20 years ago was not very diverse, and I would often be the only woman and person of color in the room. Not everyone was accepting of a minority taking on increasing leadership responsibility. However, my mentors at the time saw something in me that I didn’t see myself and helped me navigate these difficulties. Some were women and some were men, but all were interested in what was best for me and the company, overall. I have learned through these experiences never to limit myself and to always be confident in my capabilities. Had you asked me 20 years ago where I thought my career would take me, I never would have thought I’d be a sector president in my organization.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
Luckily, I have several mentors and advocates focused on diversity, equity and inclusion who I met early in my career on challenging assignments. They helped me get my foot in the door on several opportunities and provided me a seat at the table where senior-level discussions were being held. Some singled me out, asking for my opinion when they knew I had something to say but was too worried to speak up. These leaders and mentors advocated for my professional development and helped align me to the company’s goals. I still reach out to them as I navigate this leadership role.
My external relationships have helped guide me as well. As I advanced into senior level positions, I benefited from expanding my external network and sought mentors outside the organization to help broaden my perspectives. I value the strong network of industry relationships I’ve established over time.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
I’ve had the privilege of mentoring many individuals throughout my career. I believe we have an opportunity to mentor all types of individuals in short conversations or periodically throughout their careers. They don’t have to be younger counterparts. They could be our bosses or peers. Everyone has their own experiences to share to help others learn and grow. So, if someone asks for help or is willing to hear some best practices, we should offer them in the right, constructive way.
I’ve also served on Northrop Grumman’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council for many years, where we help promote a culture that engages employees and fosters innovation. Together, we’re helping strengthen a culture that unifies our employees and shapes our growth.
All of us can advocate for a more diverse and inclusive workforce by being aware of the myriad of challenges people face, keeping an open mind, sponsoring an individual’s career and providing them a seat at the table to share their ideas.
It’s gratifying watching someone learn, grow and achieve things they might not have thought they could.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
Northrop Grumman put a strong focus on diversity a few years after I joined the company. I have seen how it’s changed the innovation, culture and outcome of the company’s products and capabilities, as well as the business overall. I mentioned that 20 years ago there weren’t people like me in this industry, but if I look around me now, this has changed immensely both from a managerial and technical leadership perspective. We have received Diversity Inc’s Top 50 companies award for 13 consecutive years.
This starts with Northrop Grumman’s values, which reflect who we are and how we treat others: We do the right thing, we do what we promise, we commit to shared success and we pioneer.
Our company strives to build and retain the best team in the industry – especially one that’s diverse and inclusive. In seeking top talent from a diverse pool, we ensure that we have the right makeup of employees to help us reach our goals. Our employees are engaged to do their best work, while growing personally and professionally. Together, we’re building a world-class culture that begins with our commitment to attract and retain the best and most diverse talent.
We’re also breaking down barriers for women to be hired into and advance within technical fields. These barriers can exist at the earliest stages of sourcing candidates, which is why we recruit candidates from diversity-focused conferences. It’s important to recognize that attracting, employing, developing and retaining technical women in the workplace means having many tools in the toolkit. Advancing technical women can’t be viewed as an “initiative” but instead a cultural imperative.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
Seize new opportunities, even if you’re uncomfortable. These are the ones you’ll learn and grow from the most. Also, keep an open mind and ask for help when you may need it. No one is expected to know everything.
In addition, be willing to learn from someone else’s experiences. Innovation stems from diverse ideas. Take ownership of things, be transparent with challenges, collaborate with others and act with urgency. I also encourage employees to network, seek out a mentor or become a mentee, ask for projects to stretch their capabilities, help others and always stay humble.
What do you see as the future of your company in national defense?
Northrop Grumman is a pioneering company. We design, develop, build and support some of the world’s most advanced products, from cutting-edge aircraft and next-generation spacecraft to unrivaled cybersecurity systems and all-seeing radars. Our solutions range from outer space to undersea to cyberspace. Northrop Grumman has protected U.S. forces and our allies with weapons of increasing complexity and capabilities for expanded missions and domains for decades.
In the future, more than ever before, mission advantage will go to military forces who can coordinate and act together across all domains. Observing, orienting, deciding and acting together, faster and with greater effect than their adversaries, is the next-generation technological edge for the Joint Forces.
Additionally, the defense industry, like so many others, is transforming digitally. We’re designing, testing and deploying capabilities faster to respond to current and emerging needs. Integrated digital models of our capabilities and platforms enable a more seamless approach. We can make changes in real time and visually see these improvements reflected in the models. What once was a cycle of designing, building, prototyping and testing a capability can now be done digitally and simultaneously. This is the future.
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