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Must-read Advice from 6 Successful Women in Industry [Q & A]

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Despite being considered a minority in the manufacturing space, women are making great strides toward achieving equality and diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers. More women are entering STEM fields than any other roles, according to a 2018 LinkedIn Study; in the architecture sector, women have gone from representing just 25% of the industry to nearly 50% over the course of the last 40 years. 

While this evidence is promising, there’s still plenty of work to be done before men and women are equally represented across industry. “The population percentage for women is 51%, [but only] approximately 30% of manufacturing employees are women,” says Karen Norheim, executive vice president of American Crane Equipment Corporation. Considering these figures, being a female employee in today‘s industrial workplace can be challenging. 

Thomas Insights spoke to six women across a range of industrial roles to ask their advice on how to succeed in an industrial career and change the manufacturing industry for the next generation of women

Karen Norheim, executive vice president, American Crane Equipment Corp. and Chair of the National Board for Women in Manufacturing
Ginger Butz, business segment manager at The Morey Corporation
Denise Ebenhoech, regional head of advanced robotic applications, KUKA Robotics Corp.
Lauren Fix, sector analyst for automotive trends, The Car Coach
Arlissa Vaughn, CEO and chairman of sales and marketing, Aegis Power Systems, Inc.
Lindsey Harding, accounting manager at Stone Interiors
What progress have you observed in industry evolving to accept gender diversity?

Butz: “I think we’ve at the very least taken the first step in combating gender disparity in the manufacturing industry: we’ve addressed there is an issue and are working to raise awareness. While I’ve seen companies trying to recruit more women, I still haven’t seen this pan out too much in terms of actually getting more women in the industry. There is still a long way to go to achieve gender parity in the workplace, especially considering how few positions women hold in the industry and the bias we still face on a daily basis.”

Ebenhoech: “Over the last 25 years, a lot has changed in my environment. The next generation of women are in higher positions with more responsibilities, and often at a younger age. It seems that the disparity between genders is overall improving as time goes on, so I’m confident that the next generation of women in manufacturing will have even more opportunities than those before them.”

Norheim: “There are more women in all levels of manufacturing, from management to the shop floor, from when I started. And manufacturers, I think, are more open, and they are changing their environments to make them a place where women can thrive as well as others.”

How do you handle colleagues or clients who have questioned your work because of your gender?

Fix: “I have been involved in automotive manufacturing since the 80s; things have changed a lot. I have experienced quite a bit of pushback and doubt over the years, but I have found ways to prove myself and create a conference with people in my industry. I believe to succeed in manufacturing or engineering you need to be very confident about your knowledge and you need to know more than just what’s on the surface. You have to prove yourself. I’ve always answered any question with more than a yes or no… It may be more than needed, but once you build confidence in your company, with your customers and your industry, they will support you, back you, and include you like family.”

Ebenhoech: “Most of the comments were during my three-year apprenticeship as a car mechanic [more than 25 years ago]. It was extremely rare to see women in that role at the time. I usually took the jokes with humor and then proved them wrong with my work.”

Vaughn: “[Situations like these] create an environment wherein a woman could feel threatened or dismissed when she later must interact professionally with that person… I personally disregard this kind of behavior and continue about my day as usual. I know who I am and what strides I’ve made, I don’t need others to acknowledge me for that to be true. It is my belief that some of these deep-rooted beliefs about women’s capabilities have to be upended through sustained witnessing of a woman’s career in order to change a worldview of another.”

Q: What steps can companies take to recruit more women into industrial roles?

Butz: “Women should be able to envision themselves at a company. If your company website, marketing collateral, and social media all showcase photos of men, a woman is not likely to apply for a position at that company. Companies should also be recruiting where women will be present. Online job postings are always great, but companies can take their recruiting efforts a step further by partnering with organizations like Women in Manufacturing, a national trade association that supports women in manufacturing, who can help recruiters fill current job openings with talented, qualified women.”

Harding: “Promote training programs. I feel like women shy away from this industry because they do not have a lot of knowledge in this area; but if you actively promote internal training programs, more women will be willing to work in an industry that will train them to be successful.”

Norheim: “I was [recently] at a Women in Manufacturing event in Kentucky and a presentation was given on women in manufacturing-related jobs. The key takeaway for me from that presentation was that most women are just unaware of the opportunities that manufacturing provides. If we want to attract them, we’re going to have to tell our stories. We’re going to have to share the opportunities and make sure they’re clearly understood. And for those women that are already in manufacturing, we need to be role models; we need to talk about why we love this industry. And then men need to do it too. My role model was my father – if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have entered manufacturing.”

Q: What advice would you give to women looking to succeed in a career in industry?

Harding: “Do your research, and if you feel strongly about something, stand your ground. It is also important to be open-minded and willing to listen to other opinions without criticism.”

Butz: “Establishing your credibility is the most important thing you can do as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Many men — whether subconsciously or not — have biases towards women in a manufacturing role and don’t believe them to be capable of excelling in their position. Because of this, women need to go above and beyond to show why they’re credible.”

Ebenhoech: “My biggest piece of advice is don’t try to be like men; find your own way. Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid to take risks or make mistakes. Women are equal to men; the difference we see today is only because of history. It’s important to be aware of the influence that gender perception has on our society. Women should also be aware of the impact that the media can have on you and your perception of women, especially since most of this influence is subconscious. Most women feel strange or uncomfortable mentioning their accomplishments; this is more influenced by the media and society encouraging women to be humble and quiet. Women should champion their work and not be afraid to advocate for themselves.”

Q: How can we use diversity to combat sexism within the industrial workplace?

Ebenhoech: “To be successful, especially in the future, companies need more diversity in the workplace. Women and men are both important to have in the workplace – they create a balance that lets companies grow and prosper. Our world has become diverse and complex. Without different perspectives from a diverse range of people, no company could survive in the future.”

Norheim: “Women can bring a different perspective and add to what I like to call cognitive diversity, which is essentially this concept that we all come with a set of our age, gender, background, experience, and education. All of these things help us create our cognitive diversity, which we can then leverage to solve problems better because we have different perspectives on the problems. The more perspectives you have on a problem, the better your solution can be. If we can leverage that, it can be an asset.”

Butz: “A more diverse workspace allows everyone to learn more about different races, genders, cultures, etc. Therefore, everyone is going to better understand people who are different from them. The more exposure men have to women in the workplace, the less they’re going to be conscious of when they’re working with a woman and treat her just the same as any other colleague. It’s also important that diversity is found from the top down. The leadership team should reflect the diversity found within the company; women should be able to see themselves in leadership roles in the company, and that’s much more difficult to happen when there are no women at the C-suite or VP level.”

Image Credit: Branislav Nenin / Shutterstock

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