February 2006 
Volume 04, Issue 9 
Main Feature

Model behavior - Sandy Postel

Model behavior

Promoting diversity is 'good business practice' for Sandy Postel

Sandy Postel knows firsthand what diversity doesn't look like. As one of the first female managers in Manufacturing Research and Development, and later becoming the first female second-level manager in MR&D, Postel grew up in a working environment in which leadership tended to encourage conformity, and female role models were few and far between.

Now vice president and general manager of Propulsion Systems Division for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Postel is working both professionally and personally to ensure that future generations of Boeing employees—regardless of race, gender or physical ability—have leaders as role models they can identify with.

"Ensuring that women, people of color and those with different abilities have role models in advanced technical and management positions shows them success is possible," Postel said. "It takes a lot of different people to enable that environment."

Postel is one of those people. In her previous assignment as vice president of Quality for Commercial Airplanes, she built a diverse succession plan resulting from strong mentoring relationships. She also improved the visibility of diversity metrics, and improved the metrics themselves. And she established tools and processes to ensure women and minorities are considered for developmental opportunities across the organization.

Thanks in large part to this work, Postel earned the 2005 Affirmative Action Award of Excellence from Boeing's Global Diversity and Employee Rights organization.

One of Postel's early efforts to change things for the better began with her role as the first Boeing executive focal to the Society of Women Engineers. An advocate of networking and a believer in the power of interaction, Postel encouraged Boeing to use the SWE annual meeting to allow women engineers across Boeing to meet and develop relationships. Many attendees had never interacted with a Boeing female manager or technical fellow at their sites.

"Being able to see there are others out there like you, with similar goals, but perhaps with different experiences you might be able to draw from, is very powerful," she said.

Postel believes fostering an open culture, a place where people aren't afraid to talk about diversity issues, is a critical step to removing barriers and creating opportunities for women, the physically challenged, and people of color.

As a leader she models this behavior every chance she gets. She embraces people who challenge the status quo and bring different experiences to the table, placing enormous value on different opinions and styles, "because that's what sparks creativity," she said.

"We need a safe place to talk about issues, to accept and value different styles of thinking and communicating," she said. "We need more than an environment that is blind to differences—we need one that recognizes and embraces values and differences. We need to give people permission that it's OK to approach things differently."

In addition to open dialog, Postel maintains an open-door policy. Postel frequently mentors, coaches or counsels employees from throughout the company, listening to what motivates them and understanding their aspirations.

"The No. 1 thing we as leaders can do is give employees encouragement to try and to succeed," she said, adding that employees also have a role to play by working hard at their current duties to ensure opportunities will be there tomorrow. "If you are struggling, get help. Continue your education, find a mentor, improve your teaming skills. The company's principles—people working together, having fun—all exist to support a diverse environment, but you've got to perform, too."

Postel acknowledges that her efforts are designed to have an impact on the company's bottom line. "We need to bring talent to the table, but it's important to ensure that we cast our net wide when we are developing people. Leaders must be proactive to retain and develop the people we have."

That's why when Postel was in Quality, every leadership change, rotation or development opportunity was reviewed by her management team to ensure that opportunities were offered to women and minorities.

"We deliberately looked across the whole organization to consider all candidates for the job, because talent pools are broader than that of the individual manager or director's team," she said.

This philosophy translates into good business for Boeing. As employees are moved around, geographic boundaries begin to blur and best practices are readily shared; for example, employees from Auburn, Wash., may bring best practices to a group in Everett, Wash., that they may not have known about otherwise.

"Boeing can be a very intimidating company because it is so huge. It's important to create an atmosphere of acceptance with respect to diversity, and create a proactive environment where women and people of color can set goals, learn, and follow a path to achieve those goals without barriers or limits," Postel said. "To me, these are simply good business practices."

—Debby Arkell


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