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ASCM Insights

A Voice for the Value of Diversity

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Angela L. Ward
Global Supply Chain Program Manager
Northrop Grumman

Editor’s note: Angela L. Ward is the recipient of the 2021 ASCM Award of Excellence — Diversity and Inclusion Champion. She was recognized for displaying exceptional commitment to diversity and inclusion, fostering professional environments that value equality and individual differences, and inspiring people of all profiles and backgrounds to succeed in supply chain careers. The 2022 Call for Entries is now open. To learn more about the ASCM Awards of Excellence, visit ascm.org/awards.

What events in your life led you to a career in supply chain?

Shortly after graduating from the University of California - Los Angeles, I began working as a paralegal for various small law firms and the transportation division of the Office of County Counsel for Los Angeles County. I later transitioned into the contracts department of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where I was responsible for the execution of an advanced transportation management system for the third-largest bus fleet in North America. It was the first time I was entrusted with a $100 million contract for a state-of-the-art communication system. As the execution of the contract approached its completion, my leaders and I discussed career opportunities for me in aerospace and defense. My multimode career expanded from buses, vault trucks and trains to nearly 18 years managing supplier content for military aircraft and naval vessels.

What are your primary responsibilities in your current role?

As global supply chain program manager, I establish the strategy, planning and execution for all material content for the Northrop Grumman land maritime sensors business unit’s supply chain and ensure the execution of that vision. In addition, I participate on a company interview panel to help the organization identify talented candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Why is diversity and inclusion important in the supply chain field?

Creating a resilient global supply chain organization starts with recruiting, developing and recognizing the talents of employees of various backgrounds, skills, experiences and perspectives. Supply chain organizations need collaborative, engaged employees who bring their whole selves to work in order to reach solutions. Additionally, we have found that we as an organization are more successful at sparking innovative approaches to programmatic issues when we ensure every voice is heard and ideas from across the organization are considered.

As a diversity and inclusion leader, why do you feel it is important to share your own diversity and inclusion experiences with others?

At Northrop Grumman, we are deliberate in creating inclusive work environments. We believe that sharing experiences inspires a change of behavior. It’s that change — whether via storytelling, focus groups or even listening sessions — that tends to inspire change for our employees on a personal level.

It is not enough that any company says it is committed to hiring and retaining a diverse workforce or that it promotes a culture of unity or inclusion. Employees and candidates for employment need to hear and see our values and commitment to equality and social justice be reaffirmed and lived out. Employees need to know they are respected and valued for who they are and the contributions they make. I share my own experience to drive awareness and education and to earn trust. We are all responsible for shaping our company culture. I’m compelled to do my part.

The past couple of years have been marked by a challenging political climate, pandemic-related business disruptions and an increased awareness of social injustice. How have you led your team through these challenging times?

I’ve always started with taking care of myself. Before takeoff, airline flight attendants advise passengers to always put on their own oxygen masks before helping others. This is essential. You have to put your needs first.

One of the most significant responsibilities as a leader is to model behavior. I know that employees pay attention to me more than I realize — including to what I say, how I react and the decisions that I make. I demonstrate cognitive and emotional empathy, which has allowed me to foster greater commitment and output from team members. I also strive to provide an environment that is psychologically safe so that employees feel confident in bringing their best to their work and taking appropriate risks.

How have these events shaped your leadership philosophy in diversity and inclusion?

Like many, I was more committed than ever to driving awareness of and education about diversity and inclusion topics. Initially I held open discussions about civility and respect during staff meetings. These topics expanded to separate discussions with my team. I was also given the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with a larger group of employees to provide them with awareness and perspective.  With the support of colleagues and company leadership, I co-formed a local social justice and inclusion committee and established a framework for a community in which people could become comfortable with being uncomfortable and then harness the power of open conversation and shared experiences to foster positive change.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered on your career path so far? How did you overcome it?

Overcoming unconscious bias is a challenge for everyone, and there is not an easy or quick solution. It takes commitment and hard work. I’ve also learned that it takes being brave and resilient.

I recall a situation long ago when leadership at a previous employer was engaged in a great, very animated debate over next steps. I was the only one in the room with procurement experience and proper authorization. I was also the only woman and person of color. I was treated like I was invisible, and people talked over me. I left the room and returned with my director, who sat silently next to me. Once everyone in the room settled, I outlined the next steps. When my procurement director looked at me, puzzled as to why he was brought into the meeting, I explained that I needed to borrow his title and gender identity. Everyone was apologetic.

There were other times when I had to claim a seat and a voice at the table for myself or others, and unfortunately there will be more. Today, I can count on many others for their allyship.

What has been your most fulfilling accomplishment or experience so far?

Years ago, I would have measured my success by the complexity or amount of a contract or the successful retrofit of a platform. However, today my most fulfilling experience is hearing about the achievements of someone I mentored or encouraged to pursue their career goals or stretch their dreams.

Just the other day, I had colleagues who previously reported to me call. One is now a senior manager in another part of our company. She attributed her success to a conversation we had years ago and the influence I had on her — and I never even realized it. She said that she has watched me over the years and that my words inspired her. The other colleague had contemplated retiring when she was working for me. But instead, she was inspired by me and is not only still working but is also a manager leading a team for a key Northrop Grumman program. I love that she calls me to share her challenges and her wins. 

A Day with Angela L. Ward

7 a.m. I start the day with morning mediation, prayer and devotion. I also jot down reminders about personal or business tasks along with priorities for the day. My commute time is just a few minutes to the home office downstairs. Working from home helps ensure a safer workplace for my colleagues who must go into the company facilities. During my first sips of coffee, I check the weather around the country in areas where I have family, friends and key suppliers.

8 a.m. I call in to the first of several meetings and program reviews to ensure that the needs of internal customers and stakeholders are being addressed by my organization.

9 a.m. I join a tag-up meeting with the program-facing global supply chain planning and subcontract managers. These meetings give us a chance to connect personally and work on strategic acquisition planning for key proposals or new contract awards, supplier performance issues that may impact manufacturing schedules, our performance to material receipts forecasts, and staffing needs. We also share any other challenges and ideas to improve operational efficiency and then schedule separate meetings for more focused discussions.

10 a.m. I participate in a panel interview for a job candidate. This affords me with the occasion to attract and retain top talent and help Northrop Grumman become a world-class operations and global supply chain organization. I’m particularly encouraged by the growing interest in the global supply chain profession and the continued commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion by leadership at every level at Northrop Grumman.

1 p.m. Today I have an entertaining working lunch with a virtual meeting and the sound of snoring and barking dogs in the background. When my schedule allows, I usually use my lunch break to practice mindfulness, reset my nervous system, improve my focus and relax.

4 p.m. I meet with the global supply chain, category management and program management teams to discuss supplier proposals and strategic approaches to meet affordability targets. This meeting ends just before a strategy briefing with the business unit and program leaders. Unfortunately, the end of the day is the only time when everyone is available.

6:30 p.m. I scan my email and daily journal to ensure that I’ve met my commitments to program priorities and my team’s needs. I call the day a small victory and mentally prepare for tomorrow while wondering what’s for dinner.

About the Author

Jennifer Storelli

Jennifer Storelli is a freelance writer. She may be contacted through editorial@ascm.org.

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