Estimated reading time 14 minutes, 24 seconds.
In celebration of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week 2023, two female leaders at Lockheed Martin Canada — Gennifer Stainforth, sustainment strategy and integration lead, and Jan Kennedy, deputy program manager for the CC-130J In-Service Support Contract — share their experiences serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force and at Lockheed Martin Canada, and reflect on why it’s important for women to be part of the aviation industry, in this exclusive Q&A.
1. Tell us about your current role at Lockheed Martin? And your previous experience serving in the CAF?
Jan Kennedy: I am currently the deputy program manager for the CC130J In-Service Support Contract. My team’s mission is to keep the Canadian J-model Hercules “Ahead of Ready” for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Our team of engineers, logistic support personnel, and maintenance experts work tirelessly to keep the rubber on the ramp. In short, we work in lock-step with the DND [Department of National Defence] to provide aircrew with a capable, serviceable aircraft.
I graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in 2000 and began my career as an aerospace engineer in the RCAF. While I fulfilled various roles throughout my 20 years of service, I basically had the same mission that I do now: keep our aircraft technologically advanced and mission ready.
Gen Stainforth: As the sustainment strategy and integration lead for Lockheed Martin Canada, I am responsible for providing strategic guidance and support to our business areas. I help our teams navigate Canada’s policies and processes to enhance the delivery of existing sustainment solutions and to win new contracts for sustainment work. My work contributes to the continuous improvement of Lockheed Martin Canada’s sustainment capability, which directly supports the operational readiness of our customers.
I had the privilege of serving 22 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). I graduated from RMC in 1996 and earned Air Navigator Wings in 1997. I was posted to 14 Wing Greenwood from 1997 to 2007, serving on 405 Squadron and 404 Squadron as a CP-140 Aurora Navigator. My favorite role was flight instructor. I look back very fondly on those days and the time spent with my fellow aviators. Those experiences and relationships shaped me as leader and human being. In 2007, I was posted to Ottawa where I served in uniform until 2014. I worked in various National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) jobs such as aide-de-camp for Commander Canada Command, business planner for the RCAF, and supporting the acquisition and sustainment of aircraft fleets for the Chief of Programme.
2. Women of Aviation Week is about raising awareness of female contributions to aviation and aerospace and celebrating their success in the industry. This week is also a call to address gender imbalance in the industry. In your own words, and drawing from your own career journey, what is the significance of this week for you? What would it have meant to you when you were starting out?
Jan Kennedy: I firmly believe an individual’s advancement in any organization should be based on performance and measured through their proven capability and achievements. I am supportive of any efforts aimed at identifying and removing barriers that cause unintentional bias within such a system. I have enjoyed a lifetime of support from family, friends, and colleagues throughout my educational and career pathways, and I seek ways in which to pay that experience forward. To me, that is what this week is — an all out broadcast that women continue to make a difference in this field and are needed and welcomed in the aerospace/aviation industry. To have had this experience when I was starting out would have reinforced that I am joining a profession that is focused on solving big problems and making huge technological advances. All who are willing to dig in and figure it out are welcome.
Gen Stainforth: During my time in uniform (from RMC cadet, to flying on an operational squadron, to attending meetings at NDHQ), I recall being one of few — and very often the only — women in the aircraft/room. There were very few high-ranking female role models to look up to, and as an aviator — almost none. I have to admit that there were times when I felt isolated, but most of the time, I could count on my brothers-in-arms for moral support. I think because there were so few women, we really got to know and support one another on our journey — and we still do. Navigating the challenges of being a young, breastfeeding mother while also serving as a flight instructor was not easy; I shed a lot of tears, both of frustration and exhaustion. Fortunately, I also had overwhelming support from my male peers (who I probably did not take the time to recognize at the time). Yes, it may have been easier if there had been more experienced women to pave the way, or if the policies and procedures were less gender biased, but I am cautiously optimistic that this is changing — and believe that continuous improvement requires the participation of everyone.
While this week is a call to address gender imbalance in the industry, I am encouraged to broaden that call. No matter one’s gender, ethnicity, religion, age, or sexual orientation or intersectionality, serving in uniform (and also not in uniform as part of the defense industry) means that you are part of something larger and greater than yourself. It feels good to be part of an effective team.
3. Why should we prioritize encouraging more women to explore opportunities in the aviation, aerospace, and defense industry?
Jan Kennedy: I think it was said best in the movie Hidden Figures: “A person with an engineer’s mind should be an engineer.” You can swap out anything and everything for engineer. I believe that there are a lot more women out there with aviation minds. We need to encourage them and ensure they understand that their industry needs and welcomes them.
Gen Stainforth: I am proud to have been part of the RCAF, and am still proud to be able to support the readiness of the Canadian Armed Forces (although indirectly) through my role in the defense industry. At this point in my life/career, I feel called to do whatever I can to encourage and inspire young people, especially women, to join the Canadian Armed Forces. Serving in the RCAF is one of the most exciting, challenging, and fulfilling things a person can choose to do.
We should encourage people of all genders, ethnicities, religions, etc. to explore opportunities in the aviation, aerospace, and defense industry. An effective team is made up of a diversity of perspectives. I recall in the RCAF, where there are very good reasons to be trained to operate in a predictable way, we encountered unpredictable (not-in-the-red-pages) situations. Surviving those difficult situations required a diversity of perspectives. When we all think alike, we risk missing the obvious during a crisis. We can mitigate this risk by populating our teams with people who have a variety of perspectives. It is possible to be trained to operate in a predictable way, and celebrate that uniformity, but to also celebrate the resilience we have because of our differences.
4. If you could give one piece of career advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
Jan Kennedy: “Get in there and figure it out.” Instead of wondering if you can do something, focus on whether you want to do it. If you want to do it, work hard and trust that you will figure it out.
Gen Stainforth: I would counsel myself to pursue opportunities that were attractive or challenging, even when I thought I was not the most qualified. I would encourage my younger self to ask for what I wanted, and to not be afraid of rejection or failure. I would tell myself that to try and to fail is still a “win” because it is an opportunity to learn and grow.
5. Can you share one inspirational/pivotal moment in your own career journey? What inspired you to take to the skies?
Jan Kennedy: When I was in grade 6, my family and I visited with friends over the Christmas break. Their son had returned home from his first year at RMC. He was visiting with some of his friends who had also returned from their first semesters at various universities… I was eavesdropping. What stood out to me was that most of the stories revolved around various antics at parties. By contrast, the RMC stories were about rappelling down a mountain, flying low level in a helicopter – skimming the trees with the doors open — and the best… a flight in a fighter jet. This, to me, was a priceless opportunity. I was at the point in my life where I could choose my own adventure. I wanted the path where a flight in a fighter jet was possible. From that moment onwards, my focus was to get into RMC and join the Air Force. Oddly enough, while flying in a fighter remained top of my bucket list, engineering was the only trade I wanted.
Gen Stainforth: The first time that I “took to the skies” was when I was a little girl. My uncle flew single- and twin-engine Cessnas, and he took my brother and I up for a short local flight. I was completely fascinated to be airborne and operating in a different world than all those people and vehicles on the two-dimensional ground. When I was in Air Navigation School, and even flying on my first operational squadron, I could hardly believe my luck to be paid to do such a fun job. I never lost the sense of fascination with flying that I experienced during my first flight; I am still in my happy place when the wheels leave the runway, and I probably always will be.