033. Women in Engineering – Now What?
Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we’re going to be putting a capstone episode on the women in engineering series. We just had two wonderful weeks of powerful women telling their stories. We wanted to bring it together to a what now? What do we do after hearing all these great stories out there and to help us walk through the what now, the next steps, we have with us today, Christine LaFave Grace. She is a writer and an editor, and we’re very excited to have her and her expertise. So Christine, how you doing today?
I’m great. Thanks, Chris. How are you?
I’m great. I’m excited. The women in engineering series has been just such a personal one for me. I have two daughters and, one just actually just turned 10 years old and, they had their futures in front of them. Maybe just start off our list and there’s just about telling us a little bit about yourself and why you’re so passionate about this topic.
Absolutely. Well as you mentioned, I’m a writer and editor. My background is in journalism. For about the past 15 years, I’ve had the chance to cover a few different industries, including manufacturing and healthcare technology, which are really interestingly related actually.
But, covering those for trade magazines in particular. Back in late 2017, I was serving as managing editor at Plant Services Magazine outside Chicago. Plant Services and it’s sister magazine cover really all different facets and sectors of the manufacturing world. One of my colleagues, Erin Hollstrom, she’d had the chance to work previously on this program, recognizing women who were leading the way in the food processing industry. All of us editors, at the company, we’d come across these great stories of women in these traditionally male dominated manufacturing sectors.
Who are leading their organizations on technology change and evolving the organization to really be poised for success in this new manufacturing and industrial production environment. But there was no one space to collect these stories together and give women the opportunity on the pages of our magazine and our website, certainly to amplify their stories, and talk not only about their work, but also what it has meant to them to be sometimes the only in the room. The only woman or the only woman of color, for example.
So my colleague Erin said, “Hey, what if we created something that existed across all of our magazines at the company to recognize women who are leading change in industry.” That’s how our program Influential Women in Manufacturing started.
It was three of us, all women who started this kind of grassroots initiative. Because frankly, we saw a need for it. We decided we’d have a nomination process. Soliciting nominations from throughout industry. Having people nominate their colleagues, their mentors, their supervisors, or a women they’ve mentored. And a team of editors at our magazines would review the nominations and then select about two dozen women who would be recognized, as that year’s class of influential women in manufacturing honorees.
I got to say the response that we got from industry was phenomenal. Women were grateful for the chance to tell their stories and talk about their hopes for the next generation of women in manufacturing and for your daughter’s generation as well. To offer their perspectives for other companies on what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to advancing women in industry. As well as men and women in organizations saying, “Hey, thanks for the chance to give props to people on our teams who sometimes don’t get the spotlight.”
Influential Women in Manufacturing has honored women in maintenance and reliability roles in an engineering role and educators, as well as women in the C-suite. So it’s something that was a personal mission for us. And then it grew into something that was really, we were fortunate to find celebrated throughout industry.
That’s really cool. Now, when did that all come together and when did that start?
Yeah. So it was late 2017 when we launched the program kind of first year, our first class of Influential Women in Manufacturing honorees is in 2018. Then the program we had a hundred nominations the first year, which was phenomenal. And then the second year, we grew and we had, I think 125. We honored I think 27 women then last year. yeah, the program is continuing, we had. We had a chance to honor women at a breakfast at a conference at one of our publications was having the first year of the program.
And then last fall, we actually had a chance to have our own event. A luncheon honoring all of that years honorees. And it was these great stories that come out of these kinds of things. Our first year when we had that breakfast honoring the first class of IWM honorees, we had a woman who was in maintenance and reliability out of the company in Idaho.
She brought her mom and her daughter with her to see her except your work. Cause that’s how much it meant to her. And it’s one of these, moments where you’re like, “Wow, this has an impact,” and we want to be able to continue to share these stories with women in industry and again, for the next generation as well.
No doubt. That is amazing. It’s so great to hear that you had that type of support and interest and, just by hearing the number of candidates that were submitted, it tells you definitely hit something was, people recognize the value and importance. So hats off.
That’s great. That’s what a great story. And I can only imagine the feeling that the example you gave for her mom and her daughter. To see her win that award, just the sense of pride and accomplishment. That’s a wonderful, and that’s why he designed those types of programs.
Great story. So if you’re an employer out there right now, and you’re recruiting, you’re trying to build your workforce and, get the next line set up for the people coming in. What should you consider in those efforts to increase diversity in the workforce?
I think one of the positive developments is that this is increasingly on people’s radar. The number of programs and organizations talking about gender inclusion, gender equity, as a goal for their organization in the next 10 years, that’s really grown in the past decade. Which is great progress.
Where a lot of organizations are right now is “okay. We recognize a need. We want to make the commitment. Now what? Where do we go from here?” And I think one of the key things in working to realize your goals is taking a step back and saying, “Okay. We can’t do things the way we’ve always done them throughout the manufacturing industry.” That’s one of the things that holds organizations back. Whether it’s adapting new technologies, changing processes, evolving organizational culture, or getting the people on your team who maybe haven’t been there and haven’t had their voices represented in the past. It’s “well, that’s how we’ve always done things.” That holds organizations back.
So from a recruiting perspective, you’ve got to look at where are you going to recruit talent. This is such a crucial issue. More than half of college students right now in the US are women. 56% of college students, I think it was last fall, were women.
You’ve got incredible talent pool out there. If they’re not coming to your organization. How can you change what you were doing to better reach them? And it’s a multifaceted thing, but I think we got to look at, so where are you, really where are you going. In terms of recruiting events or, or job boards. If you go to the same job fairs that you’re always going to, virtual or in-person right now, you might be getting the same candidates. It’s this idea of, if you do the exact same thing, the exact same way with the exact same people, you’re probably going to get the same results.
Look at who’s on your recruiting team. Who are you sending out to job fairs? Honestly, if you’re sending out a team to a job fair, whether it’s high school, college, whatever, and it’s all three white guys over 50. If I’m a student who is not in that category. Do I see myself reflected in your company? Do I see a place for myself in your company?
So you need to be sending out a diverse team to connect with people, to talk about their stories of how they entered the organization and how they feel that their voice is heard at the organization. You got to think too about expanding the base of where you’re going and the organizations that you’re connecting with. Are you connecting with community colleges in your area that honestly might already have programs supporting women or other adult learners advancing careers in industry.
Have you connected with national society of black engineers, which was founded in 1975 at Purdue. Have you connected with society of women engineers, which is a huge organization with incredible resources not just for women engineers, obviously, but for organizations looking to expand gender diversity there.
If you want to get different results, you have broadened your thinking a little bit and not just go to those same job or boards, same job fairs, same event, the same recruiting avenues that you’ve always pursued.
Yeah, no doubt. you basically just define the definition of insanity, right? I mean that’s it. And just doing the same thing, expecting different results and there were some great examples, you just provided Christine, for our listeners to really invest their time in and hopefully make some change. And if you want to take a leadership role from an employee from an employer standpoint, in this space of gender equity and diversity, what does that look like?
Sure. One of the key things is making your, making your people visible. Making sure that their voices are heard. So we talk about diversity is having a seat at the table. Equity is being able to, speak up and, and share your voice. Inclusion is really being heard, having a sense of true belonging and mutual respect there. So organizations that are taking a lead on this walk the walk and put their money where their mouth is.
It’s the type of investment that has to come from the top. There has to be buy-in at all levels. So you need to take leadership on this from the executive level. This can’t be seen as something that is just an HR initiative and it can’t be something that is just a women’s thing. This is something where you’re talking about improving really improving your pipeline of talent and getting your organization ready to meet the demands of what’s coming up ahead.
We talk about changes in the manufacturing industry in terms of increased automation, in terms of evolving skill sets that are going to be needed to, to compete globally, You’re going to need a diverse group of talent to step up.
And how are you reaching talent? Both in education and in the community. And then how are you allowing talent to thrive and to shine once they’re in your organization. That’s another key area that’s influential in manufacturing that we’ve found from research is it’s one thing to get people into your organization. It’s another thing to get them to stay.
So retention of talent is a top issue for manufacturers, right now. And one of the things that will cause people to leave is a culture where they don’t feel supported. You think you are hired on to bring a certain skillset, certain perspectives, certain talent to the role. Are you really able to contribute fully in what you’re hired to do?
I have a personal friend who was brought onto lean Six Sigma initiatives at her organization, and it was a culture that was really not receptive to change and really fell back on “well that’s the way we’ve always done things.” She was the first woman in the organization to hold the role. And there was a lot of resistance, to her, and to what she was trying to do. She was seen as an outsider and she was seen as, a woman and someone who wasn’t trusted as much as some of the guys who’ve been on the team for, for 30 years. Are you going to have people stay and be able to make the changes you hired them to make if they are not welcomed and really supported throughout all levels of the company.
Yeah. I guess it’s just build a strong level of trust with those type employees.
From this standpoint, Christine, I guess what gets overlooked then if you’re looking at an employer or what doesn’t get the attention that it needs, that it should, when it comes to making these advances?
Yeah. I think there are multiple facets to that. But it gets back again to it can’t just be an HR thing and it can’t be a woman’s thing. It’s about everybody and advancing the organization overall. You want to connect better with customers with an increasingly diverse customer base.
They need to be able to see people on your team that they can relate to. They need to understand that your team, whether it’s a product development team or, an executive leadership team that they are able to understand and empathize with, with your needs, with your own customers needs and concerns.
You’ve got to have a variety of perspectives on your internal teams to be able to provide that diversity of thought, diversity of experience. They’re going to better inform what you’re offering in the marketplace. Other things that get overlooked. I think the fact that everybody has accountability here. Everybody has an opportunity to step up too.
If you’re a man and see opportunity for improvement on this, it’s great to be an advocate into vocally support women in the company. But I would say don’t think that because you’re a man or because you’re somebody else in whatever kind of initiative you’re talking about, who’s not part of that group that we are discussing, that you can’t have a role in changing things. There’s no reason not to be a part of it, a part of a team, a part of initiative, thats working on this just because you are not part of that specific group.
If you recognize that there is a need for change. You’re already ahead of the game. You are already poised to help bring about change, to be a leader. You know, don’t be afraid like step up and be part of the solution.
Everybody has to pull together and everyone has ownership in the solution.
Absolutely love it. I know Christine, we talked a little bit offline about the different types of, you’ve talked about culture quite a bit. Team building activities and things like that kind of define the culture and help build a positive culture. What type of events could be implemented or try it out, but employers, maybe they’re not thinking about these types of things to really bolstered their position towards a positive culture with diversity and inclusion there.
Absolutely. One of the things they talked about, example, I was looking up information last year about a conference I was maybe going to attend. The two networking events at this industry conference, both of them were golf outings, and you nothing wrong with golf outings, but you reach a point where if that’s the only opportunity you’re offering for kind of, you know, outside and off the clock networking. Is that going to be as inclusive as you might want it to be?
Look at your company and who has access to, to golfing and opportunities, to be able to feel like they can really engage in and be part of this company initiative. So it’s not something you got to throw out your playbook entirely and scrap anything that you’ve done and tear up company tradition, just looking at how can we maybe add something, or do different things that might really welcome everybody that don’t require a certain background or skillset or interest in in a particular hobby.
Things like volunteer events. Those are really inclusive. Obviously, we’re dealing with change times right now with what’s available. Not to say that there aren’t online opportunities as well. So looking at a team outing to pack food at a local food pantry. Those are super popular and really successful events. It’s something everybody can rally behind. And again, you don’t need a specific skillset or experience level.
Participating in a charity run-walk role. That’s something that even can be done virtually now. And you get, you can still get people signed up. If you can’t bring people together, on a weekend, you can still allow everybody to take part and be part of something bigger than themselves and provide a talking point, a connection point.
Those are really cool opportunities. If you look at things like a weeknight outing to a ball game. I love that kind of thing. I would love the chance to go, to go to a Cubs game or something. But for, for the single parents on your team, are they going to be able to take part in that kind of networking opportunity?
Are they going to have a chance to talk to people, connect with people, maybe higher ups. Share some idea’s. Share some stories. Get to know people better and make those kind of connections that can be really meaningful for your career. If you’re worried about cobbling together childcare, that kind of thing.
So it’s just taking again, taking a step back and thinking, how could we maybe add something or do something a little bit differently to make sure we’re allowing opportunity for everybody to participate.
I love it. Those are all great ideas and areas. I’m with you on the ballgame part, but I hadn’t thought about sometimes there are constraints where people can’t always make that, so being able to think outside the box, to volunteer portion, you mentioned that’s great team building period.
And, and if it’s particularly, if it’s around a cause that maybe the company has some alignment in and can support and people can really get behind, these are all great ideas, Christine.
Yeah. When, when everybody can take ownership over something, whether it’s an actual work initiative a volunteer project, that just builds the kind of buy-in that really, you can feel dividends in terms of retention and engagement. It’s just, it really is like a win-win.
So they were all kinda things outside of the work environment from a team building standpoint. What about inside the work environment? Any advice you would give employers there that are trying to improve that culture?
Yeah. So one of the, several of the women actually that we have honored through influential women in manufacturing has talked about the value of employee resource groups. Which people have different experiences with them. And certainly they take real commitment and organized thought behind to be successful. But offering people the chance to connect with individuals throughout the organization based on a particular function or background or area of study.
so one resource group that we, heard about at, for example, Large industrial automation company. they had a group for women engineers, and it was a smaller kind of subgroup of society of women engineers. It was kind of like this company’s own society of women engineers chapter. And because this was such a large company, there are women in engineering roles located, across the country and in different functions, even within the headquarters office you know, working in different capacities and it was a chance for them to come together even just once a month and do lunch and learn sessions.
Talk about projects that are working on. Different opportunities or challenges they’ve encountered. Offering a space to connect and, you know, meet up with somebody, virtually or in person who has a similar role or who is engaging in a different part of the company. You make those connections that can be really valuable for having somebody who’s got your back when it comes time to promotions or moving around within the company. So employee resource groups are really valuable.
Again, even the basic kind of company-wide, discussion session. Ones that are focused on diversity and inclusion, why it matters. Things that the company is trying to do. Offering people on your team who don’t necessarily always have the chance to have the spotlight talk about what they’re doing. You’ve got a maintenance and reliability leader, who is engaged in some really powerful work. It’s moving the needle for the company, offering them a chance to talk firsthand about what they’re doing, not just having reports come down, from HR, from the communications team, giving people a chance to have their voice be amplifying.
It can be something that shows a sign of respect for all teams within the organization. And you know, again, allow people to see themselves reflected in, in different roles throughout the company.
Absolutely. And several of these instances that you’ve brought up here, I’m thinking about, it’s, it’s helping you one network, but two people to understand how the value you bring into to just help you navigate throughout your career.
So for the listener out there right now that, christine, maybe they’re trying to figure out how to navigate that. And they’re trying to understand how to what’s the best way to network or how do I establish some mentorship with someone? What advice would you give that listener?
Yeah. sometimes taking the first step can be the hardest, right? We’re all busy. We’ve all got so many things to do and it’s easy to let big ideas kind of fell by the wayside when you’re trying to put out the fires day to day. Like just take the first step. You don’t, you don’t have to have this grand plan totally ready to go before you start moving.
Don’t we talk about sometimes in industry, paralysis by analysis. This is don’t be paralyzed by fear of it’s just overwhelming. Take that first step, reach out to somebody. Reach out to, if it’s someone in HR, if it is a woman at a high level of your organization, reach out to the CTO or the CFO, or, whomever who’s in, who’s in a position that you could maybe see yourself moving into, or you’d like to find out that path.
People love to talk about their own stories, right? If there’s somebody you’re intrigued about, his or her stories reach out to them. There’s no, there’s no harm in putting that question out there.
“Hey, can we connect some time, over, over coffee or something? Can we do a zoom call, at the beginning of the end of the work, your work day sometime? I just love to hear a little bit more about your background and why you, why you love what you do.” Why, I do with so many.
People most of the time, I think will be flattered by that interest. And, if you can talk even with other people in other functions, your organization, if you’ve got an idea for something, it starts with one person, right? It starts with one, one idea for, “Hey, maybe we could try to…” you get a few people together. You bring up an idea to, to supervisor, to management and you don’t know where it can go orwhat can flourish.
Again, it’s that initial outreach. If you’re seeing, “Hey, it’d be great to get together virtually with some other parents. Do you want to do a parent resource group?” If you want to talk with other women who are in engineering roles in your organization, put the question out there. Find out what kind of interest there is and just keep at it, man. It’s those first steps.
You just gotta be bold, right? You can’t be afraid to take the initiative like you said, and put yourself out there. Great advice. Great advice. Thank you for that. So if you look at this topic, Christine, whose responsibility is it? Where does the accountability lie?
Sure. It’s going to sound pretty the same but again it’s everybody’s responsibility, right? Everybody has to take ownership of the organization’s culture. Cause everybody’s a part of it. Everybody is affecting the organization’s culture. You can have really great buy-in. If you’ve got one or two people on the team who are toxic that can have a really outsize effect on, on the overall organization.
It’s everybody’s responsibility. Ultimately accountability is gotta be, it’s gotta be at the top. The people who are leading initiatives. If you’re gonna, if you’re gonna really enable success with gender equity or racial equity, any initiatives that you’re looking to target, you gotta put some numbers behind it.
Again, we talk in any manufacturing, industrial production about you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So put some targets behind it. Put some numbers behind it and then make those yearly progress reports.
2020 has thrown everybody the biggest curve balls they could never have imagined, but that doesn’t mean that initiatives like these have to fall by the wayside. Cause you know what the same challenges are going to be there in 2021 and 2022. You have in manufacturing industry production workforce that needs change. It needs people, it needs talent. Number one, to fill these changing, evolving roles. And it’s going to need diversity of thought on leadership teams, on product teams, on maintenance and reliability teams to again, meet the needs of the organization and the marketplace going forward.
So you gotta look at do you have women who are leaving your workforce right now because they have care giving responsibilities and they can’t make that work. And there’s no flexibility on the organizations end to allow them to be successful in their role and also meet the needs of their family. If you have women who are leaving your organization now, how are you going to make that back up in 2021 in 2022 and going on?
It’s not something that can be put on the back burner again, just because you’re trying to put out all these fires of today. You have to, you got to take a forward-thinking approach and look at, there was a study out, women in manufacturing industry from Deloitte a couple of years ago, women are about half the US workforce. Only about 30% of the US manufacturing workforce.
Again, as we talked about earlier, women make up more than half of the college student population in the US right now. You have incredible pool of available talent studying and working to build the skills that the industrial community is going to need. How are you going to reach them? How are you going to bridge that gap?
There could be, Deloitte estimated a couple of years ago, a workforce shortage. A workforce gap of 2.5 million workers in this country by 2025. There’s an incredible opportunity. If you put some thought and effort behind it, of how are we going to engage? How are we going to do things a little bit differently?
And, reach the diverse group of talent that we’re going to need to be best positioned to succeed in the future.
And Christine, I’m hoping that with conversations like this on relevant topics like this, we’ll get get the attention and start creating more dialogue and opportunities for change and discussion about, I love how you put the metrics behind it, you’re right.
If you don’t measure, you can’t manage it. So that’s great advice. Great insight, wisdom there. And you have really unpacked just a tremendous amount of insight and knowledge for our listeners today. And we always like to wrap up EECO Asks Why with the why. Where we get down to the purpose. And Christine, I guess my question to you would be, why it matters for companies to remain focused on building diverse talent pipelines?
Yeah. It gets back to what’s the workforce that you’re going to need to succeed in 2025 and 2030. Do you want to be, out there, at the forefront, it’s not enough to just hang on. It wasn’t enough in 2019, and it’s not going to be enough coming out of, a global pandemic and a global economic crisis.
If you want to, if you’ve got vision and you have ideas of, momentum where you want your company to go, you’re going to need the team that’s going to help get you there. That’s going to need to be a team that has, that brings to the table a diversity of thought. A diversity of backgrounds and experiences that are offering things that you might not have thought out.
Things that might not have been brought up if you have a board where everybody looks the same or came from the same schools or came from the same economic background or racial and ethnic background. You need people bringing up things that your customers are going to be looking for. That’s why you need to go out and recruit the talent who’s going to bring those fresh perspectives, diversity of ideas to the table.
Absolutely. That’s wonderful. That’s a great summary, Christine. Thank you again. Great way to end this series. Powerful discussion here. A lot of insight, a lot of wisdom. And I really appreciate you taking your time with us today.
Christine: 32:54 Thanks so much, Chris. It’s been such a pleasure. There’s a phenomenal series that you are doing, so thank you so much for that.