Today, we celebrate International Women’s Day. In place for more than a century and now recognized by nations around the world, the day recognizes the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – and the achievements yet to come.
Clearly, this is a day of reflection. When I take time to do this, I am often inspired by Joan of Arc’s accomplishments and sacrifices. She represents what I truly admire in women who put themselves at risk for what they believe in, and in women who continue to advance in their efforts in the face of adversity.
Ultimately, as women continue to ascend as business and societal leaders, our progress will often be measured by how we perform – particularly, like Joan of Arc, when we place ourselves at risk. The professional world requires that you confront your insecurities, and yet have the confidence that you are capable for exactly such a time as this. If your emotions attempt to impede your progress or you feel ill-prepared, remind yourself that you are stronger and more capable than these deceptive or doubting “voices” try to tell you. Also remember that you are not alone. Many have faced similar challenges and you are surrounded by people who are invested in you – and your success.
On this day of recognition for women, I consider my own responsibility to others in supporting the development of the next generation of leaders, both women and men. I have a personal passion for mentoring the next generation of STEM leaders and investing in others as they walk along their own path to success. It has especially been my privilege to work with and lead female professionals who bring a unique vision and talent to the technology arena. As part of my volunteer work, I founded Women in NOVA (WIN), a standing committee of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) that enables IT/communication women professionals to expand their networks and focus on career development. All profits from WIN fund STEM scholarships. I proudly serve on the Women in AFCEA leadership board where I work with incredible women leaders, shaping and supporting the establishment of appropriate women’s programs and efforts to increase diversity across the international trade association.
I am completely committed to filling the STEM gap. I feel that it is essential to ensure that there is a strong “next generation” of science and technical leaders, who are even more excited and knowledgeable about space than we are. Through the National Electronics Museum, where I am a board member, I lead our STEM committee to support STEM scholarships while also providing stimulating hands-on STEM activities for all education levels. And in September, we opened the Satellite Gallery at the National Electronics Museum to showcase amazing accomplishments and advancements in space.
In recognition of those who helped me make my own STEM educational and professional choices, I act as an adjunct professor at my alma mater, the University of Kentucky, where I teach a portion of the spring curriculum in the College of Engineering’s Leadership Course. I truly enjoy teaching this leadership module for the next generation of cross-department aspiring engineers and leaders and supporting the graduates in their post-academic planning as they enter into the workforce or into graduate studies. These extra-curricular activities allow me to give back. It is by far some of the most inspiring aspects of my career engagements and I remain motivated by these young and developing professionals to strive to do even more.
Hopefully, on International Women’s Day and all of the days that follow, women and men will keep overcoming obstacles and paving the way for others.
About the author
Rebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch is Inmarsat Senior Vice President for Government Strategy and Policy in the United States Government (USG) Business Unit, based in Washington. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch brings 25 years of defense, aerospace, and executive leadership experience to Inmarsat. As a decorated member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) in the U.S. Department of Defense, she served as the Program Executive Officer for SATCOM, Teleport and Services at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and in several key SES executive positions including the first Vice Component Acquisition Executive for DISA, with executive management responsibility for the acquisition oversight and horizontal integration of DISA’s products, services, and programs. Ms Cowen-Hirsch established the Defense Spectrum Office, serving as its first Director where her responsibilities included the development of national security spectrum strategic plans and policy, and national and international negotiation of defense spectrum issues. Her broad defense career ranged from systems engineering, experimental flight test, program management, spectrum management, and a wide range of executive leadership positions. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch was a rated experimental flight test engineer; was the first female civilian Mission Commander for the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA) mission, and was the recipient of an Exemplary Service Medal for her years of selfless service to the Department of Defense. Ms Cowen-Hirsch has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering, conducted post-graduate studies in Engineering Management, and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Space Institute Experimental Flight Test Program; the DoD’s Acquisition Management Program; and the Cambridge Senior Executive Leadership Program.