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Boeing Communications Chief Resigns Over 33-Year-Old Article

Boeing’s communications chief resigned last week after an employee complained about an article he wrote nearly 33 years ago that said women should not serve in combat.

Niel Golightly announced his resignation in an email to Boeing’s staff on July 2. He said that what he wrote in the article, which was published in 1987 when he was a 29-year-old Navy pilot, was wrong.

“The article I wrote — with arguments I disowned soon after — makes for painful reading,” Mr. Golightly, 62, wrote in the email, which he shared with The New York Times. “Painful because it is wrong. Painful because it is offensive to women. Painful because it reminds me of the sharp and embarrassing education the uninformed and unformed ‘me’ of that time received as soon as the piece appeared.”

In an email to employees after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis in May, the company’s chief executive, David Calhoun, wrote that Boeing “will have zero tolerance for bigotry of any kind” and that the company would “redouble our determination to drive out behaviors that violate our values and injure our colleagues.”

Credit…Boeing

Mr. Golightly, who resigned after just six months at Boeing, said in an interview that the views he expressed as a young pilot in no way represent what he believes today. He said people should have room to mature and change their ideas as their careers progress without being judged on opinions they had decades ago.

“As youngsters, we’ve tried out ideas; we’ve done things that we look back on and say, ‘That was kind of silly, but boy did I learn from that,’” he said. “I think that’s what we want from leaders in society and politics and business.”

Mr. Golightly’s article appeared in the December 1987 issue of Proceedings, a monthly publication produced by the United States Naval Institute. “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,” he wrote.

On a 5,000-man aircraft carrier, “there is simply no room for the problems of sexual harassment, rape, prostitution, pregnancy, love triangles, and adolescent emotional crises,” he wrote. “There is no advantage that women bring to the front line that is worth the expense and encumbrance of providing private facilities, creating ‘milspec’ tampons, and keeping ships’ stores stocked with feminine hygiene needs.”

Mr. Calhoun, the chief executive, said in a statement that he respected Mr. Golightly’s decision to step down “in the interest of the company.” Boeing said it did not agree with the views expressed in Mr. Golightly’s article.

“Niel and I discussed at length the article and its implications for his role as the Company’s lead spokesman,” Mr. Calhoun said. “I thank him for his contributions to the Boeing Company, which have been substantial even in a short time.”

Mr. Calhoun added, “I want to emphasize our company’s unrelenting commitment to diversity and inclusion in all its dimensions, and to ensuring that all of our employees have an equal opportunity to contribute and excel.”

Stan Deal, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, wrote in an email to staff members last month that Boeing had recently dismissed several employees for inappropriate behavior. Among them was an employee who left racist symbols in the work space of a Black manager in the company’s factory in Everett, Wash.

“We will continue to investigate and eliminate behavior that violates our values,” Mr. Deal wrote. Another employee was dismissed in recent weeks after making a racist comment, according to the staff email from Mr. Calhoun.

Boeing is coping with the fallout from the crashes of two of its 737 Max jets within five months in 2018 and 2019, which killed 346 people. The company, which employs about 143,000 people, said in January that it expected costs associated with the grounding of the 737 Max in March 2019 to surpass $18 billion. The coronavirus pandemic, which has brought most air travel to a halt, has delivered another devastating blow to the company’s business.

Bjorn Edlund, a former head of communications at Royal Dutch Shell who worked with Mr. Golightly for four years, said Mr. Golightly’s case should have been treated differently. Mr. Golightly promoted female talent within the team and was an exemplary employee, he said.

“This is just astounding that something someone wrote 33 years ago should lead to termination like this,” Mr. Edlund said of Mr. Golightly’s resignation.

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