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Special Report--Women in Manufacturing

By: Brad Kuvin

Tuesday, October 01, 2013
 

There’s no better cure for the vast and widening U.S. manufacturing-workforce gap than to attract more women to the cause. During the economic recovery of the last three years, women have not shared in manufacturing job gains. From January 2010 to February 2013, men gained 535,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector while women actually lost 18,000 jobs.

More than 200 women attended the Women in Manufacturing Summit 2012, taking advantage of numerous opportunities to network, share experiences and learn from each other.
Up to the task of attracting talented women to the manufacturing workforce is Women in Manufacturing (WIM). This organization is on a mission to provide women working in manufacturing with a forum for networking, to establish mentoring relationships and improve their leadership and communication skills. As a group, these leading ladies promise to support WIM’s goals of attracting and retaining women into the manufacturing workforce, and to help ensure they’re provided opportunities for advancement.

WIM began in 2009 as a small group of Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) members meeting to discuss best practices and business conditions. It has since blossomed into a membership organization of more than 300 women. The organization, now a sister to PMA, produces year-round networking opportunities, quarterly e-newsletters and an online directory. PMA’s investment in and nurturing of such a cause mirrors the activities of many manufacturing companies who have come to realize the importance of seeding and nurturing a diverse workforce—comprising not only women, but every minority.

Progressive, Diverse and Inclusive

Case in point: the PDI (Progressive, Diverse and Inclusive) program at Ingersoll Rand, a major initiative I wrote about in my editorial in the September issue of MetalForming. I learned of the Ingersoll Rand PDI program during an interview with Cynthia Farrer, the firm’s security technology sector vice president, operations–Americas. Farrer recently took home one of the inaugural Women in Manufacturing STEP Awards, sponsored by The Manufacturing Institute, along with Deloitte, Society of Manufacturing Engineers and University of Phoenix.

Farrer describes her company’s diversity initiative as “much more than just recruiting and retaining talent. It’s about creating a culture where people feel respected. We celebrate cultural heritage, and are strengthened by the diverse perspectives of our employees.”

Ingersoll Rand’s Cynthia Farrer shares her management philosophy:
“Lead calmly and with a sense of urgency,” she says. “Early in my career I had a role model and mentor who led this . I learned from her, and watched how she conducted herself. …She taught me to focus on the five ‘whys’ of problem solving rather than the ‘five whos.’ Don’t ask who is responsible for a problem; find out why it happened.”
Unleashing the potential of women —and in fact of the entire breadth of a company’s workforce—undoubtedly increases a firm’s opportunities to grow and prosper. Consider this statement from a Harvard Business Review blog describing research from the Center for Talent Innovation:

“Leaders who make sure women get equal airtime are 89 percent more likely than non-inclusive leaders to unleash women’s potential. Leaders who are willing to change direction based on women’s input are more than twice as likely to tap into winning ideas. And leaders who make sure each female member on the team gets constructive and supportive feedback are 128 percent more likely to elicit breakthrough ideas.”

Going Where Few Women Go

Obviously Ingersoll Rand falls into this category, and has elicited numerous breakthrough ideas by leveraging its focus on diversity across all levels of the organization. Before joining the firm in 2006 as director of global quality and operational excellence, Farer worked in a variety of roles with General Motors and its spinoff company Delphi. Armed with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering from Purdue, Farrer advanced from the role of industrial engineer at GM to a supervisory role, and then to plant manager for a four-plant Delphi operation in Mexico.

“At that time (1998-2003),” she says, “I was one of only a handful of women running manufacturing plants in Mexico.”

Today, Farrer, based in Indianapolis, IN, oversees Ingersoll Rand’s four U.S. manufacturing plants as well as plants in Mexico and Canada, as vice president of operations. At the core of her management philosophy:

“Lead calmly and with a sense of urgency,” she says. “Early in my career I had a role model and mentor who led this . I learned from her, and watched how she conducted herself. And to this day I still consult with her, as a friend and a mentor. She taught me to focus on the five ‘whys’ of problem solving rather than the ‘five whos.’ Don’t ask who is responsible for a problem; find out why it happened and how the process can be revised to prevent future occurences.”

 

Women in Manufacturing director Allison Grealis recently surveyed its community of more than 300 members, asking what the statement “women in manufacturing” means to them.

“One response we received,” she says, “was ‘Modern Women, Modern Work.’ We feel this perfectly sums up our current proposition to the graduating women of today, who we invite to join manufacturing and experience a rewarding and contemporary career.

“We would like your company’s support to attract, retain and advance women in manufacturing,” adds Grealis. “Visit www.womeninmanufacturing.org to explore how to help. Any action you take individually or companywide is important and timely. We are at a critical juncture where we need to devote resources and energy to fill open manufacturing positions with talented women.”
Farrer, who has engineering in her blood (her father was a chemical engineer) and als was strong in math and science courses as a young woman, expresses concern over the fact that the number of women engineering graduates is on the decline, even as men continue to flock to the profession. Only 10.7 percent of engineering jobs are held by women, she says, and that “without more women in the pipeline, efforts to increase women’s participation and influence in technology and manufacturing companies won’t become any easier.”

Attracted to, and Up to, the Challenge

As a young woman entering college and considering career choices, Farrer selected industrial engineering because it was “challenging, technical and tied closely to manufacturing,” she recalls. It’s not difficult to get Farrer to identify and share particularly challenging—and rewarding—times in her career. For example, as Delphi’s global quality director she was responsible for resolving any quality issues quickly, so as to not hold up assembly operations at automotive OEM facilities.

“In one case we had eight assembly plants waiting for one of our assemblies,” she shares. “We worked through the weekend, day and night, to resolve the problem and avoid delays. That was the high-pressure cooker I lived in.

“That’s an example of how fast paced and exciting manufacturing can be,” Farrer continues, “with opportunities for interpersonal communication, engagement and personal development.”

Those types of job descriptions also attracted Jada Dressler to the engineering profession, now two years into her career as a chemical and process engineer at Zeon Chemicals, in Hattiesburg, MS. Dressler, armed with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and working toward her master’s degree, hit the ground running when she joined Zeon straight from college. Management assigned her projects right out of the gate, and also takes advantage of her green-belt six-sigma certification by having her participate in the firm’s corporate quality committee.

“Work-life balance is something I definitely think about, down the road,” says chemical and process engineer Jada Dressler. “I want that balance, and I’m trying to get a feel for the types of jobs that would allow me to have that balance. I also know that WIM networking will allow me to learn how other women working in manufacturing have managed to maintain a healthy balance of home and work life.”
While at first limited to more general plant-wide and relatively smaller projects, Dressler now takes the lead on process-specific and critical projects throughout the plant. These include development of a visual-inspection program to monitor and verify product quality.

“The opportunity to grow and progress in my career in this industry has been exciting, and rewarding,” Dressler says, echoing Farrer’s perspective on an engineering career. “I love getting up and going to the plant every day. While many of my female engineering-school classmates opted for sales jobs rather than finding jobs working in manufacturing plants, I thrive on the hands-on work.

“Throughout my life,” continues Dressler, “if someone questioned my ability to perform a task I became more determined than ever to prove them wrong. No one can tell me that I can’t do something.”

That goes for the completely male workforce Dressler works with in engineering and on the process-side of plant operations, almost all of whom have been on the job for more than 20 years. But while she faced some early skepticism from her coworkers after joining the company in 2011, “it’s been like having 50 big brothers in my corner,” Dressler shares. “I consider them mentors. People won’t just hand you respect and trust, it has to be earned.”

A highlight of her brief yet rewarding career in chemical process engineering has been learning to value other people’s opinions, she says, and to work with people with diverse backgrounds vastly different from her own.

“That learning experience—ongoing still—continues to make me a stronger and more successful engineer. It’s already been an incredibly rewarding career, and through my involvement with WIM I hope to inspire other young women to consider engineering as a career choice. And, I look forward to interacting with more experienced women in manufacturing so that I can continue to learn and gain inspiration.

“Work-life balance is something I definitely think about, down the road,” Dressler adds. “I want that balance, and I’m trying to get a feel for the types of jobs that would allow me to have that balance. I also know that WIM networking will allow me to learn how other women working in manufacturing have managed to maintain a healthy balance of home and work life.”

WIM Members Anxious to Mentor

Dressler and other young women working in manufacturing have plenty of mentors from which to choose, including Farrer and fellow STEP Award winner Mena Tazegul, quality systems and six-sigma manager at the John Deere Engine Works plant in Waterloo, IA. Tazegul notes that Deere’s WomenREACH (Relating, Enriching, Achieving, Challenging and Helping) organization has helped provide direction to her successful career at the company, which includes a stint as industrial engineering supervisor.

Mena Tazegul, a John Deere quality systems and six-sigma manager, believes that “women are collaborators, nurturers and listeners. Manufacturers—all employers in fact—need these traits in their managers, and would benefit from moving women into leadership roles. I truly believe that when we put our ‘team-thinking’ hat on and when we collaborate, we als will find solutions to problems that are richer and better than if we try to develop solutions on our own.”
“WomenREACH meetings and educational events,” she says, “provide opportunities for women at John Deere to share ideas and build professional relationships. We discuss challenges and share ideas to turn challenges into opportunities for improvement.”

Among such opportunities are those found on the plant floor as well as the often-discussed work-family balance issues faced by all families where both parents work outside of the home. For Tazegul, that has meant forgoing any job opportunities that required frequent travel so she could stay close to her family. Her solution differed greatly from that practiced by Farrer, whose husband, she says, took a primary role in raising their children. Different means to the same end—exactly the type of experience and idea sharing that Dressler and other young women in manufacturing can gain by becoming engaged in WIM.

The Industry Needs More Collaborators, Nurturers and Listeners

Like Farrer, Tazegul studied industrial engineering in college and earned a master’s degree (in operations management), “because I wanted to work within the manufacturing environment,” she says. “I enjoy working with the people on the shop floor, seeing how things are made and finding s to make them more efficiently. I like to be around creative out-of-the-box thinkers (Tazegul drops the name Leonardo da Vinci as a personal hero), and also enjoy helping to inspire that creative thinking in others.”

Prior to moving into her current role as quality systems and six sigma manager, Tazegul delivered significant improvements to the overall operation of the Waterloo plant as industrial engineering supervisor. As noted in her STEP Award biography page, she oversaw projects that expanded production capacity by more than 30 percent.

Now, as quality systems and six sigma manger, she describes her three primary responsibilities as:

• Overseeing quality systems and ISO certification

• Managing quality planning for new product launches

• Guiding the development of six-sigma projects to improve overall plant efficiency.

With a dozen direct reports, Tazegul stresses the importance, in addition to being a creative thinker, of being a relationship builder.

“Women are collaborators, nurturers and listeners,” she says. “Manufacturers—all employers in fact—need these traits in their managers, and would benefit from moving women into leadership roles. I truly believe that when we put our ‘team-thinking’ hat on and when we collaborate, we als will find solutions to problems that are richer and better than if we try to develop solutions on our own.”

Mentoring a Two- Street

Like Farrer and Dressler, mentoring has played a vital role in Tazegul’s professional and personal development. And not only does she continue to be mentored even at this stage in her career, she now also serves as a mentor to women working in manufacturing.

“I’ve als had great mentors to whom I could turn and look up to,” she says, “and now I seek to mentor other women at Deere. But even with the invaluable input from my mentors, I’ve als felt responsible for ultimately figuring out what was best for me. Others are willing to help, but in the end I tell the women I mentor that they have to weigh what others say and make decisions for themselves.

“Female managers can be great role models for young women,” Tazegul continues. “Look up to them, learn how they have managed to accomplish their goals, personally and professionally, and seek their advice. Then be diligent about taking the steps necessary to reach your full potential.”

Her final advice to young women working in manufacturing, such as Dressler, looking to craft a long, successful and rewarding career:

“Keep an open mind, focus on and learn from the successes of other women, and chase your dreams. Learn that you’re not alone—there are mentors out there ready and willing to provide guidance. Reach out, learn and create your own support group. And don’t be afraid to become known as a collaborator—we need more collaborators on the front lines of manufacturing.” MF

 

Related Enterprise Zones: Management


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