Karen Conti couldn’t help but beam when the Navy announced that U.S. military women would be allowed to serve aboard submarines starting in 2012.
“Not only are female sailors being assigned to guided and ballistic-missile submarines, but now more than ever before women in greater numbers are pursuing successful defense industry careers,” said Conti, whose first post-college job 31 years ago was working on a submarine project for a large defense contractor.
Today, Conti is vice president of Navy Networks for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors (better known as MS2) -- one of three primary operating companies within the global corporation’s Electronic Systems Business area.
She is one of the nearly 300 Lockheed Martin employees, plus hundreds of other government staffers and contractors, working at the new 158,000-square-foot “green” facility on a sprawling hilltop campus in Scripps Ranch.
In addition to her senior management responsibilities at Lockheed Martin, Conti recently surfaced as president of the San Diego Chapter of Women in Defense (WID). It is a volunteer leadership role that allows her to “open new hatches” for the growing ranks of women in the traditionally male-dominated industry.
According to Conti, WID is all about networking and professional development opportunities for women (and men) working primarily in national defense and security professions.
“We try to provide an environment where folks can make valuable contacts that enhance their careers and provide learning opportunities geared to helping grow their businesses,” she said.
Part of that educational outreach component includes a mentorship program that matches fledgling members with respected leaders of the defense community that can provide advice, training and new business prospects.
In particular, Conti said WID is focusing considerable efforts on increasing opportunities for women-owned small businesses to compete in federal contracting.
“We’re trying to gather support and push actions through the SBA and other organizations that will result in more procurement set asides for women-owned small businesses,” she said.
Women-owned small businesses are one of the fastest growing segments of our economy, Condi said, “yet they continue to be underrepresented when it comes to federal contracting.”
The local WID group meets monthly and sponsors events ranging from high-profile guest speakers to social nights like wine tastings and pet adoption events to raise funds for its scholarship program.
All are aimed at getting women from various fields to meet, talk and encourage business growth in the defense industry, explained Conti.
Conti, long an active member of various industry-related organizations, has pioneered WID chapters in several markets where she’s worked. When she moved to San Diego in late 2008, she was thrilled to see the local WID organization more “visible and social” than many of the others around the nation.
The 5-year-old San Diego chapter currently has 190 members including owners and employees of government contractors big and small, as well as military and civilian personnel.
Esterbrooks is a San Diego-based freelance writer.
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