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A look back: WIA at 20

Lynn Cline's remarks at the May 3, 2005, celebration of WIA's 20th year served as both an introduction to our first signature breakfast speaker, Mike Griffin, and a look back to where it all began:

Good morning. I have been asked to do two things this morning - to talk about the 20th Anniversary of Women in Aerospace and to introduce our speaker, Mike Griffin. Let me begin with WIA.

A few years ago, I accompanied my husband Ken to his 40th high school reunion. Since he had joined the Army the day after graduation and hadn't been back to his hometown much since then, Ken was seeing high school pals for the first time in 40 years, and the passage of time does funny things to one's memory. As a spectator, it was fun to listen to a story that involved teenage drinking, sneaking out to the cemetery to look for ghosts, and some arrests. Everyone agreed on those points. The fun part was that the details were very different depending on who was telling the story - who was there, whose idea it was, and what actually transpired.

I had the same feeling talking with a few women about the founding of WIA and I'd like to thank Diana Hoyt, Marcia Smith and Kate Kronmiller for sharing their stories.

Depending on one's perspective, WIA began at an Arianespace party, or at a subsequent organizational meeting, or if you want to go by the official organizational date, some time later when the by-laws were filed. As the story goes, Arianespace held a party in Washington for a scheduled launch from Kourou. Once the party began, the launch was postponed for four hours. This, of course, led to considerably more time for eating, drinking and socializing. I understand the French champagne was flowing freely.

In vino veritas -- the comment was made by one woman to her female colleagues that the assembled group looked like "an old boy's club." This was followed by the idea of creating an equivalent "old girl's club."

Shortly thereafter, a meeting was convened at Mary Waggoner's house to determine how to organize, and to define the goals of the group. Diana Hoyt was unable to make the meeting because she was home looking after her husband who was sick. To demonstrate that women know how the rules work as well as men, since she was not there Diana was promptly elected WIA's first President!

There were a series of organizational meetings at various homes along the way as WIA was defined and lawyers assisted with the development of the by-laws.

The saying goes "success has many fathers" or in this case mothers and fathers.

There were different groups of women and men involved in these various stages some very visible and others capably organizing things behind the scenes, so I will not attempt to catalog all the names.

More important are the ideas that were there at the inception and have remained constant for WIA:

WIA was intended initially to provide a forum for networking.

WIA was open to men as well as women, recognizing that given the demographics in the aerospace field, (1) there was no point in women exclusively networking among themselves, (2) many of us have benefited from male mentors or advocates who have assisted our career development, and (3) discrimination is illegal for such a non-profit group. So the thought was that men could be equally devoted to the advancement of women in aerospace and the organization should welcome both genders in that cause.

Women in Aerospace has evolved over the years, as any successful organization does, and will continue to grow. The current WIA mission statement reads: "WIA is dedicated to expanding women's opportunities for leadership and increasing their visibility in the aerospace community."

WIA hosts regular programs with a variety of speakers on topical issues.

The annual awards ceremony has become a well-attended event and is one aspect of visibility focused on recognizing women who have made significant contributions in aerospace.

In the last year the Board and Officers have recognized that WIA could do more in the area of professional development, so we created a new position of Vice President for Professional Development, and you will be seeing more in this regard in the coming months.

And for those of you who prefer a fun event away from serious debate of aerospace policy, there's always the annual golf outing.

Women have come a long way in the past few decades. If I take just a snapshot of NASA, when I joined the Agency in 1975, women represented 17.5% of the workforce, with only 2.9% in science and engineering. Decades later, women represent 33% of NASA's workforce, with over 18% in science and engineering and 22% of the Senior Executive Service. And if you look at a very visible aspect of our program, women represent 26% of the astronaut corps. WIA mirrors this trend, as you can see by the caliber of women receiving WIA awards or featured in some of its programs.

While I wasn't in on the creation of WIA, I have found it to be a beneficial organization for the opportunity to meet others in the aerospace community that I would not naturally come across in my formal position. This sort of informal network becomes a place I can tap into for advice, potential job candidates and new ideas. And like other professional associations, WIA programs provide an opportunity to learn about activities in a variety of aerospace topics of interest that may be outside my own "job jar" but provide a broader perspective of our community's programs and challenges.

And as we focus on professional development, it is my hope that we can offer support for more women in the field to reach their potential and contribute to our work, whether it is in the commercial, civil or national security sector.

As my own particular bias, I'd like to underscore that while we certainly need more female scientists and engineers for our future workforce, those like me who do not have a technical background can also make significant contributions to our field.

So, I'd like to take this opportunity to offer an imaginary toast with some of that great French champagne to commemorate the 20 th anniversary of Women in Aerospace and best wishes for its continued success!