Advocating Women in Engineering Award
E. Seiko Okano
Naval Sea Systems Command
For serving her country with distinction; for leadership and advocacy in establishing innovative mentoring programs for women; and for opening doors to diversify the naval engineering leadership of tomorrow.
With more than 25 years as an officer and engineer in the U.S. Navy, Rear Admiral E. Seiko Okano has been entrusted with some of the Navy’s most challenging engineering assignments. Her initial operational tours include gunnery and fire control officer, and electrical division officer on the USS Belleau Wood, which she deployed to Somalia; and Amphibious Force 7th Fleet flag aide in Okinawa, Japan. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, she served on Joint CREW Composite Squadron ONE in Tikrit, Iraq, to assist with defeating radio-controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
As an engineering duty officer (EDO) since 2001, Okano has completed numerous tours in acquisition, beginning with SPAWAR Systems Center, San Diego; the Missile Defense Agency, Aegis BMD; Military Satellite Communications Wing, Space and Missile Systems Center; and Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme. Moving to Program Executive Office Integrated War Systems (PEO IWS), Okano was the major program manager for above water sensors and lasers, overseeing development and sustainment of all surface radars, electronic warfare systems, and directed energy programs. Her last assignment was as executive assistant to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition. Her current first flag assignment is as program executive officer for PEO IWS.
Okano credits her becoming a mentor to a woman junior officer who asked for her help. She not only heeded the call, but she also began encouraging more women in leadership by founding and leading the first sessions of Lean In Circles. The response was much greater than anticipated, and soon the group opened discussion opportunities to Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, a community of 2,000-plus largely civilian personnel.
In 2016, that same junior officer invited Okano to kick off Lean In Circles at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme. Her impact across that command led to the founding of dozens more Lean In Circles in warfare centers across the country.
Between 2017 and 2019, Okano personally mentored all of the women EDOs. During that time, four of 11 deputy program manager positions were filled by women engineers. Soon, all three senior executive service positions in PEO IWS were also held by women.
She prioritizes responsiveness to the needs of young talent, giving teams a safe space to communicate struggles and failures, and offering opportunities for growth. She especially focuses on women of color, inviting them to shadow her. One of her first initiatives established the “Wolfpack,” a junior advisory group designed to give voice to those underrepresented in higher-level discussions. Today, 90% of this group are minorities, and 85% are women.
Okano’s decorations include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. She is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where she received a B.S. in aerospace engineering. She earned an M.S. in space systems engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School.
She loves tinkering with Arduino boards and electronics and spends much of her free time boxing.