Innovation award-winner Barbara Borgonovi:
“This is the power of diverse teams: We are better together.”
Barbara Borgonovi, Vice President of Integrated Communication Systems for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, shares 5 insights into her childhood dream job, how she navigates being the only woman in the room, what she’s learned about career advancement and innovation—and what she’d want a mentor to tell her if she was just starting out today.
Q: What was your dream job as a kid?
As a kid, I aspired to be CEO of Disney. I was enthralled with the idea of having Mickey, Minnie and Goofy as my colleagues. I had learned about Imagineers during a school trip and was captured by the combination of innovation and magic in their jobs. Today, I still enjoy Disney and work to embed creativity into my personal and professional actions.
Q: In college you were often the only woman in engineering courses. What did you learn then—and in your professional career—about how to effectively deal with the challenges of being the only woman in the room?
I studied mechanical engineering in college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a school that focuses on hands-on and group learning. Growing up as a bookworm and not working with tools, I was terrified when I had to take apart a lawn mower, learn to weld, and machine an air motor. I quickly learned to recognize what I was good at. We all have strengths and weaknesses. My education at Cal Poly taught me to always take a seat at the table and recognize that I have significant skills to offer my peers that fill gaps for the group. This is the power of diverse teams: We are better together. It still can be hard when I am the only woman in the room today but I always lean on the confidence that I am uniquely adding to the outcome.
Q: Today, you lead more than 2,000 employees in Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems division. What is one of the most surprising things you have discovered about career advancement for women—and how did you learn it?
I am still surprised with how often we take job requirements as absolutes compared to men. I experienced this many times when hiring for senior positions. I would contact female candidates to ask if they would be interested in applying for the role, and they would point out all the areas they didn’t have full qualifications in. Meanwhile, my phone and email would be buzzing with men who wanted to be considered for the role who all had significantly less qualifications. This is why having programs to review talent across your organization is so important. To continue to advance women we need to pay attention to the requirements we are posting in job requisitions and encourage women to take the leap.
Q: You are a winner of the prestigious Gold Stevie Award for Most Innovative Woman of the Year. Congratulations! How do you think about cultivating a spirit of innovation in yourself and others?
Innovation requires experimentation, and experimentation requires the possibility of failure. What is important is knowing how to fail fast with managed risk, so the next cycle of experimentation can occur quickly. As a leader, it is my role to encourage our teams to be bold and understand that innovation will result in successes but the journey can be rocky.
Q: If you were just starting out today, what would you want a mentor to tell you?
To not be afraid of making mistakes, no matter how embarrassing you think they may be. I spent too much time early in my career worrying about what happened and not about what I learned from the experience.