Empowering women, igniting excellence

07 March 2024

Hwajeong Kim joined Leonardo in 2016, conducting a variety of business administration roles for the company’s Republic of Korea (RoK) representative office. Now working as Head of Business Management at Leonardo’s Korean branch, Hwajeong liaises with the Republic of South Korean Navy and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in relation to the management of Leonardo’s in-country military helicopters and radar products.

Before joining Leonardo, Hwajeong had a varied career working across defence in addition to the electronics and technology sectors. In 1997, she specialised in Information Technology, before completing an MBA from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul in 2020.

However, a career in the defence sector was not something that Hwajeong saw herself exploring when leaving college. “Traditionally, in South Korea, men undertake mandatory military service, which, in, turn, provides men with experience that allows an easier route into a defence,” says Hwajeong.

Today, while Hwajeong believes there are no such obstacles for women to work in any industry, she acknowledges there is still a way to go until there is true equality. She recognises that to achieve equal opportunities, there is a need to break down long-standing gender discrimination and prejudices, and sees her role as a manager being important to changing perceptions.

Therefore, as a team leader, Hwajeong is considerate to unconscious bias and partialities, and one of the roles she most appreciates in her day-to-day is the creation of a comfortable work environment through effective communication for all.

“I enjoy solving dynamic and diverse problems, from working outside of defined roles to completing and taking action on set tasks within deadlines to benefit overall programmes and business requirements,” Hwajeong explains.

In her current role, which is a customer-facing position for Leonardo in Korea, Hwajeong knows appropriate positive behaviours and attitudes are essential to develop and strengthen the company’s reputation amongst the end-user and customer community. “I enjoy negotiating, fostering positive collaborations and teamwork. I get great satisfaction and enjoyment in working as a team, where mutual support and cooperation strengthen work relationships – [inside and outside of Leonardo].”

As a mentor, Hwajeong aims to ensure her team can develop their capabilities through fostering their talent and ensuring professional satisfaction, which not only benefits them as individuals, but strengthens their commitment to the company. This enhances the business and its delivery on programmes and projects through staff retention.

“When I started my career, I was surrounded by male colleagues and it felt like a career handicap to choose to have and raise my children. I felt as if I had to make my male colleagues forget that I was a woman. I needed a lot of help and sacrifice from my family, and I struggled to balance work and family duties.

“However, looking back on my career and what I am now responsible for, I think being a woman has given me some advantages. I want to inspire and motivate more women so that they look at me and think, ‘Look what I can achieve too’,” she adds.

Hwajeong reiterates her view that there is no industry that is not open to all; it is individuals who need to adapt to challenges and change. Her advice to those seeking a career in the defence industry? “Be positive and confident in your field of expertise, and pursue career opportunities to enable enjoyment in professional growth.”

Her three stages of advice are:

  1. Enjoy learning something new
  2. Build a network
  3. Find a mentor, regardless of gender, who can guide and support you on your career journey

Within South Korea, a recent public awareness campaign was launched to challenge stereotypes and promote the image of women in defence careers. The government’s aim is to inspire young women to consider a career in the defence sector, highlight the contributions of women already working in the sector, and actively encourage women's participation in military service.

In relation to this, the government is actively encouraging women to become interested in the field of science and engineering, starting from middle and high school age. This is being achieved through engineering events for female students.

Hwajeong believes that such campaigns are important and will provide more opportunity for women who want to pursue the type of career she has. “I enjoy working in this industry because I have been able to work equally with men for a long time thanks to the expansion of equal employment opportunities for women at multinational companies, like Leonardo, that have established a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I hope many more women can experience what I have.”

Equalise network group

Equalise network group

Leonardo UK's Equalise network group aims to provide support to employees, inform others about the issues that affect every gender, and dispel stereotypical assumptions in order to help truly reflect our modern workforce.