In the realm of defence and security, the role of women has historically been underrepresented. Amid this traditionally male-dominated landscape, the Canadian Industrial Leadership Award (CILA) is paving a path to gender equality and equity. It represents a collective stride towards inclusivity and gives the leaders of tomorrow opportunities to increase employment, development, and advancement.

General Dynamics Mission Systems–Canada has committed to breaking down the barriers, fostering diversity, and empowering women. “By joining CILA,” says Leanne Patterson, Senior Director Human Resources, General Dynamics Mission System–Canada, “we are recognizing that the future for women in STEM in Canada is bright, and that we are here to support them.”

CILA is the brainchild of Rich Foster, Vice President of L3 Harris Technologies in Canada. The program, launched in 2019, in collaboration with CAE and Thales, is aimed at addressing the diversity gap, while serving as a way to acquire Industrial Technological Benefit credits with Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED). Since then, Babcock Canada, and now General Dynamics, have recognized the value of CILA’s mission and have committed to enabling additional opportunities for female STEM students.

“Canada is a global leader in innovation," says the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, "and that’s why we must continue to create opportunities that increase diversity in STEM-related fields. This important initiative supports young women as they aspire to careers in the aerospace, marine, defence and security industries and become the leaders of tomorrow in these critical fields.”

At its heart, CILA seeks to nurture the next generation of Canadian leaders in defence through acknowledging up to ten female STEM students a year. The recipients receive fully paid internships, access to executive mentorship, a one-time $6,000 CAD award, and the potential for full-time employment.

“My experience with the program has opened my eyes to the possibilities and opportunities that exist within the defence industry,” says Taylor Diegel, General Dynamics Mission Systems–Canada’s 2024 CILA recipient. Taylor is studying for her undergraduate degree in computer science at the University of Calgary, and has been working as a software developer in Calgary since January 2024.

“If our aim is to cultivate diversity at all levels including the boardroom,” says Leanne, “we need to begin at the outset of an individual’s career and mentor them along their journey.” Effective mentorship helps individuals navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities, while instilling confidence, resilience, and leadership skills essential for success in the boardroom and beyond.

Since its inception, CILA has awarded internships to 23 recipients from nine Canadian universities, across five provinces. The program plays a crucial role in fostering a culture of excellence, innovation, and growth across the defence industry and serves as a reminder of the incredible potential that exists in the next generation of STEM leaders.