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Last summer, Amy Gilliland, president of the multi-billion dollar global defense company GDIT, received a phone call informing her that one of GDIT's employees died by suicide. That tragedy drove her to create a program to spark conversations about mental health issues across the company and the industry, especially among military veterans. Gilliland joins Geoff Bennett for our Weekend Spotlight.
Time now for our weekend spotlight. Amy Gilliland, president of the multibillion-dollar global defense company, GDIT. Last summer, Amy received a phone call informing her that one of GDIT's employees died by suicide. That tragedy drove Amy to ensure that no other employee was silently suffering. She created a program to spark company and industry wide conversations about mental health issues, especially among military veterans.
Amy Gilliland joins us now. It's so great to have you here. In this campaign you started, it's called, "How Are You Really?" And the name struck me because that question suggests that the first answer you get to a question like that isn't always the real answer?
Amy Gilliland, President, General Dynamics Information Technology:
Yes, either not the real answer, or people don't stick around to hear what you say. A lot of times, it's just perfunctory in passing. And so, we wanted people to ask, and to listen for the answer.
How do you at a company like the one that you run, $8.5 billion in revenue 28,000 employees all around the world? How do you scale a program like that, to check in with people?
You know, whether it's for this or anything else, you want a company to feel connected? And so, we have you really been focused on building community? And how do you do that? One of the ways we do that we have employee resource groups and those employee resource groups and we've used them for everything from dealing with societal injustices throughout the pandemic and having conversations about that to having conversations about mental health. So as an example, we have a veteran group, and just this past week, we had speakers come in and talk to veterans and anybody else who turn up about suicide. The suicide rate among veterans as you may know is higher than it is in the broader population. And so, we have between 25% and 30% of our workforce that are veterans. And so, this is an important topic to have. So, we try and make a big place feel small.
The world in which you work, though, the intelligence, the defense community, there's a fear, there's a concern that if people start talking about mental health issues, that could invite scrutiny that could lead to people losing their security clearances. And in many of these jobs, as you will know, without that security clearance, you can't keep the job. How do you navigate those concerns?
Yeah, you're so right. And so, the most important thing, for people to be feel empowered to come forward and say they're not OK is to remove the stigma of mental health. And this was a huge blockade we saw with all of our cleared employees. And so, what we did was, we wouldn't got the facts. Intelligence agencies want the employees that are serving the mission, to be well and to be healthy and to be resilient. And they want them to seek the help that they need. And actually, it is in point 00001%, of instances, that people would lose their clearance. So, it's fiction, not facts. And so, what we have done is try to get the facts out there, and to have our leaders and senior leaders talk to employees, and even go so far, if they want to talk about their own struggles and the fact that they have sought help. It's OK to not be OK, even if you have a clearance.
You know, it would have been easy for you to send a company-wide email and say, we know that people are having mental health issues during this pandemic, if you need help, here are a number of places where you can go to find it. And then you just insert all of the links, I've worked in enough places where I've been on the receiving end of emails like that, why go beyond that, and be very proactive about making sure that the people who work for you actually get the help that they need?
In the aftermath of the pandemic, the statistics are just stunning. And it is clear that workplaces have to be part of that safety net. So, 20% of adults have mental health issue. They just reported recently that there's a 4% increase in suicide rates. 70% of adults are saying that their children are suffering from mental health issues. And so, it's not actually even just a workplace. It's a family issue also. And that requires something different than what we did before. We increased our programming. We've had over 100 sessions. They're all voluntary. People can come, they're anonymous. So, people can feel free to engage and interact and ask questions. And through that, I can't tell, you how, many times I've had an employee, when I go into a work setting, come up and say, thank you. Thank you for doing that. I had this situation, or they sent me an email saying, hey, this gave me permission. And so, I think we're trying to make a conversation in a secure space, an OK thing to do. And that takes more than an email.
Question about your background?
You're a U.S. Navy veteran.
You're among the few women to have ever led an entire brigade of midshipmen. And you've come from a family, three generations of military service.
What were some of the pivot points in your career? And how does that military service inform the work that you do now?
Yeah. I do come from a military family. My great grandfather immigrated to the United States from Switzerland. And he served his country and he was so proud. I was raised by a single mother. And I remember sitting at the breakfast table with him because she worked full time. And he imbued such a sense of service. So, I went into the military, served on, guided missile destroyer. And I had an incredible experience traveling the world. And when I came back, I came to D.C. served in a variety of missions there. And it made a very difficult decision. So, pivot point one, was getting out of the service. And that was a really hard decision for me. And it wasn't easy. And I didn't want to be far away from what was all I'd known my whole career, which was the Navy. So, mission was important, came to General Dynamics. Five years ago, I had this incredible opportunity to come out and run this large business. And it has been the greatest challenge and the most incredible opportunity.
You can imagine. We were talking earlier about your bracelet, that I noticed, what's that represent?
So, this bracelet is about Rett syndrome. So, I have — I'm also a mother, which is probably the best job there is.
I know you're talking about being a parent also.
Hard to be the parent of a fifth grader these days for sure, but my middle child has Rett syndrome. And Rett Syndrome is a genetic mutation that results in neurological difficulties. It's mostly prevalent in girls and it causes them to generally be nonverbal, have no meaningful use of their hands. Many are not mobile and many are tube fed. So, this is a reminder to me of what my daughter goes through every day. And the science that is evolving now is so hopeful. It's also a reminder of the hope. So, no matter how bad my day is, Ashley is fighting harder and I have to fight for her.
Well, our best to Ashley, and our best to you. Thanks so much for coming in and speaking with us, I appreciate it.
Thanks for making the time.
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