Boeing comms lead Niel Golightly resigns after 1987 article on women in combat resurfaces

As he stepped down, Golightly told staff that he disowned the comments years ago. CFO Greg Smith is replacing him in the interim.

Boeing comms leader Niel Golightly resigned this week.
Boeing comms leader Niel Golightly resigned this week.

CHICAGO: Niel Golightly resigned as Boeing’s top communications executive on Thursday after an article he wrote in 1987 while in the U.S. Navy about the fitness of women to serve in combat resurfaced in an employee complaint. 

The communications function is reporting to Greg Smith, EVP of enterprise operations and CFO, until a successor is named. The company has started a search for Golightly’s replacement, it said in a statement. 

Golightly’s resignation stemmed from an employee complaint that referred Boeing executives to the 1987 article that said women should not serve in combat operations. 

Boeing said in a statement that it does not agree with the views expressed in the article, nor do they reflect Golightly’s opinions today. 

“My article was a 29-year-old Cold War Navy pilot’s misguided contribution to a debate that was live at the time. My argument was embarrassingly wrong and offensive. The dialogue that followed its publication 33 years ago quickly opened my eyes, indelibly changed my mind and shaped the principles of fairness, respect and diversity that have guided my professional life since,” Golightly said in a company statement. 

“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,” he added. 

The article, entitled “No Right to Fight,” included the passage, “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,” according to Reuters, citing the U.S. Naval Institute website. 

In an email to the communications team obtained by PRWeek, Golightly explained that he was “making a spurious argument questioning the wisdom of sending women into combat.”  

“At the time, the exclusion was government policy and broadly supported in society,” he said. “It was also wrong.” 

Golightly added that he disowned the arguments soon after the publication of the article, which “makes for painful reading.” 

“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,” he wrote. 

Boeing president and CEO David Calhoun said in a statement that he discussed the article with Golightly and its implications for him as the company’s top spokesman. Calhoun also reaffirmed Boeing’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

“I greatly respect Niel for stepping down in the interest of the company,” Calhoun said. “I thank him for his contributions to the Boeing Company, which have been substantial even in a short time. Our executive council and I thank him and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.” 

Golightly joined Boeing at the start of this year as SVP of communications, replacing the retiring Anne Toulouse. VP Linda Mills, who oversaw communications for Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes unit, also left the company late last year. Previously, Golightly was chief communications officer for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles since 2018. 

In an emailed memo to communications staffers, Smith referenced leadership turnover in the function and corporate crises such as the 737 Max crisis that has hampered the company since early last year. 

“Let me take a moment to also say that I am very aware what this function has been through over the past several years, both as a result of the multiple crises that needed to get handled as well as the frequent leadership changes that occurred,” he said. “While I can’t change the past, I can commit to you that I will do everything I can to help you navigate these dynamic times. We will do it together as one team.” 

Smith also acknowledged the department’s work to become “more agile, integrated and stakeholder-focused” and said a group webcast is being planned.

Golightly could not be reached for additional comment. 

Boeing posted a $641 million loss in Q1 as it planned workforce reductions, with revenue down 26% year-over-year to $16.9 billion. The company’s shares were up 26% last month, according to CNBC

This story was updated on July 2 to correct the date of resignation. 

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