When women come together with the goal of helping other women, exceptional things happen. At United Technologies Corporation (UTC), one need only look at the WILL Rise initiative to see proof of that. The program name is both an acronym (Women in Line Leadership) and a verb. The verb indicates a meaning of action. We WILL Rise. Designed as a grassroots effort with the intent of advancing women in line leadership positions across two UTC businesses, Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney, the program was the brainchild of Jennifer Reed and Jennifer Caruso. Both executive line leaders within the UTC umbrella themselves, the pair began a mentoring relationship that soon evolved into a valued friendship.
In seeing the support they were able to provide each other, Reed and Caruso realized they wanted to help other women scale their line leadership careers, as well. The resulting WILL Rise initiative was met with company-wide enthusiasm.
“UTC is changing with its new and upcoming leaders,” Reed said. “They are demanding diverse and inclusive thought because they know it drives excellence. It’s not just a corporate initiative; it’s something that we want in our culture so that we are competitive in the market.”
With a focus on fostering sponsorship relationships for women in line leadership roles, WILL Rise’s first cohort consists of 64 high-performing female leaders from Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney across all disciplines, from finance to legal. Considering research shows female aerospace executive representation sits, on average, at just 19 percent, the initiative aims to address this inequality not only quantitatively, but also in the quality of leadership development women receive.
Caruso has certainly seen her own approach to leadership evolve over the course of her 28 year career at UTC. A key ingredient that has remained consistent though, is embodying a principle she refers to as “Promise Integrity.”
“It’s about stressing the importance of being dependable and doing what you say you are going to do,” Caruso said. “Credibility and dependability remains foundational to my approach. My philosophy today is centered on the importance of building strong and empowered teams that actively care for each other and for our end customer.”
In Reed’s experience, her leadership approach often draws parallels to her affinity for playing team sports.
“When I started out in my career, it was about being an individual player where one’s success was defined by your individual tasks, how strong your tactical skills were, and being a team player,” she said. “Now, as I have moved into larger executive roles, I’ve transitioned into more of a head coach role. I am no longer on the field winning the game with my team. Now I’m on the sidelines, making sure my team has the strategies, skills, and resources to win.”
She added that, during her time at UTC, she’s had the opportunity to see several leaders positively role model what it means to set others up for success.
“Each of them took a risk on me; they let me make mistakes and learn, and they put a support system around me,” Reed recalled. “They never told me how to do things — most great leaders don’t. They empowered me by helping me think through why and how I was doing things. They listened and asked questions.”
Reed and Caruso’s initiative further aligns with a broader goal taking place at UTC, as well; by 2030, the company has pledged to achieve full gender parity across all levels of its corporate leadership as part of the Paradigm for Parity campaign. Overall, both initiatives will help systematically imbed within the company a simple tenet that Caruso says has helped her advance personally.
“It’s about, as a leader, seeing the potential in someone — and then doing something about it,” she said.
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