Looking at the warm smiling face of Lena Gillstrom, it is not easy to figure out that this woman is Managing Director, of Weapons Systems, Sweden for BAE Systems, one of the most crucial posts in this leading company in the defence industry. For, the defence industry anywhere in the world is normally male-dominated but women like Lena are breaking those stereotypes – and how!
Lena is one of the few women who have made it to the top of a defence company hierarchy. However, speaking to her, it is evident that it never occurred to her that gender could ever be a deterrent in achieving her goals. Her interest is in how systems are used, she says, and this drives her to understand what customers need.
Lena grew up in a loving and supportive family environment, and was always interested in mathematics and logic. Engineering was therefore a natural career path. Even early in her career, as a Field Service Representative on ships, she had supportive colleagues and she never let it bother her that she was most often the only woman in important meetings – what mattered to her was that she brought something crucial to the table.
Her resolve and ability to consistently deliver superior performance has brought her to the top of the ladder at BAE Systems in Sweden.
She reiterates that she never faced discrimination due to gender in her career. “When I meet people, I see them as individuals, not as men or women, and I try to be myself – open and welcoming with everyone”, she told BharatShakti during an interaction at DefExpo 2016 in Goa, held in March this year. She concedes that she might just be luckier than other women, but her ability to listen to others, to be humble and be focused on finding solutions has ensured she is taken seriously. Lena, in her own way, has successfully ensured that she is treated like a professional.
There is a sparkle in her eyes as she talks about the next generation artillery system, ARCHER. BAE Systems delivered the first four ARCHER Artillery Systems to the Swedish Defence Material Administration, FMV in 2015. She explains how the ARCHER system is one of the world’s most advanced artillery systems with high mobility and precision; that it is based on proven subsystems and has an extensive ammunition portfolio. It has proven its efficacy in a NATO exercise in the Nordics.
And what about her India experience? Not many would know that she was a part of the design and development team of the 155 mm FH-77B Bofors gun (BAE Systems acquired United Defense and its Bofors subsidiary in 2005).
When the deal was inked way back in the late 1980s, she knew it was a milestone in terms of opportunities in India.
Lena’s 2016 visit to India involved interactions with several women leaders – in the fields on law, administration, human resource, etc. She says it is only a matter of time before women chip away at the male domination in the defence industry in India. Just by being there, just by being visible, she says, can go a long way in influencing and setting an example for other women. “It is important for leaders to be inclusive and have an open dialogue so that everyone, irrespective of gender can bring their perspective and broaden the scope of the discussion”, she says.
So what does Lena do when she is not donning her hat as a leader in one the largest global defence, security and aerospace companies in the world? Well, she loves spending time with her family and cooking for them.
The number of high – performing women reaching for the top in the defence sector is on the rise. Spending those few minutes with Lena Gillstrom – her professionalism, keen interest in technology and people and a genuine concern for customer needs – all accompanied with that affable smile, makes one feel upbeat about the future of women in the defence industry!