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Boeing communications chief resigns over decades-old article on women in combat

(Adds details on women in Boeing’s leadership)

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE, July 2 (Reuters) – Boeing Co’s communications chief Niel Golightly abruptly resigned on Thursday, following an employee’s complaint over an article the former U.S. military pilot wrote 33 years ago arguing women should not serve in combat.

“My article was a 29-year-old Cold War navy pilot’s misguided contribution to a debate that was live at the time,” Golightly said in a statement accompanying Boeing’s announcement.

“My argument was embarrassingly wrong and offensive. The article is not a reflection of who I am; but nonetheless I have decided that in the interest of the company I will step down,” Golightly said.

His exit leaves Boeing trying to fill the crucial communications role for the fourth time in less than three years at a time when it is battling to shore up its brand after the prolonged safety grounding of its Boeing 737 MAX jetliner.

Golightly’s departure after just six months on the job, during which he was said o be introducing sweeping changes, followed the board’s review of an internal anonymous ethics complaint that flagged his article.

He decided to step down after discussions with Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun and others, Golightly told employees in an internal email seen by Reuters.

His resignation comes at a time when U.S. employers have been more responsive to complaints related to sex and racial equality and diversity fueled in part by the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, and anti-racist activism.

Boeing says it has a strong commitment to improving diversity, though the number of senior women on its executive council has fallen from five to two since the beginning of 2019, according to Boeing’s annual reports and website.

Although changes in communications leadership rarely make news, the job has become the industry biggest hot seat, with Boeing coming under fire for the tone of early statements over the 737 MAX crisis, sometimes under pressure from its lawyers.

Golightly declined to comment beyond the statement issued by Boeing.

According to an excerpt on the U.S. Naval Institute website, the December 1987 article titled “No Right to Fight” said: “At issue is not whether women can fire M-60s, dogfight MiGs, or drive tanks. Introducing women into combat would destroy the exclusively male intangibles of war fighting and the feminine images of what men fight for – peace, home, family.”

Golightly told staff in an email on Thursday that the exclusion of women at the time was “government policy and broadly supported in society. It was also wrong.” (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)


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