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Rosie the Riveter Becomes Rosie the CEO

Senior Managing Editor, APICS Magazine

Thursday February 8, 2018

As APICS readers know all too well, the supply chain skills gap is a real crisis — in fact, many of our members say it’s the most significant business issue they face today. There are literally millions of open manufacturing jobs, and this number is only going to escalate as more Boomers retire. That’s the bad news. The good news is that more and more organizations are beginning to tap into a vast, highly skilled talent pool: women.

I recently had the opportunity to attend STEP Forward: Charlotte, a two-day leadership program hosted by The Manufacturing Institute and Ingersoll Rand. The goals of the event included the following:

  • Recognize, develop and support current and future women leaders in manufacturing.
  • Encourage attendees to act as catalysts for change within their companies.
  • Discover new ways to unleash the potential of women leaders in the field.

Manufacturing Institute Executive Director Carolyn Lee conveyed how making recruitment and retention of women a strategic priority gives companies more diverse perspectives, creative solutions and better business performance overall. She added that such initiatives lead to an environment that allows for innovation, customer focus and long-term business sustainability.

However, my key takeaway from the event was that this concept must be taken a step further to actually getting more women into leadership roles. “If you have diverse workplaces — specifically diverse C-suites and boards — those companies do better,” Lee said. “And how do you create a pipeline that is open to different views and more sensitive to gender issues? If you really want that, then you need to build it into your career-progression models.”

According to the report “Women in Manufacturing: Stepping up to make an impact that matters,” companies in the MSCI World Index with strong female leaders have both higher returns and superior average valuation compared to those that do not. Furthermore, an increase from no females in corporate leadership to just 30 percent representation was associated with a 15 percent rise in net profitability.

About three-quarters of the women surveyed also believe they are underrepresented in their organization’s leadership. This sentiment is echoed by APICS Award of Excellence honoree Sabine Simeon, vice president, supply chain Europe, at Schindler. She recently shared her experiences “being a woman in an industrial world” with APICS Magazine: “Despite Schindler’s effort to promote diversity, only a small fraction of women serve as executives. This is mainly due to a lack of female role models, mentors, colleagues and leaders, which has a significant impact on their persistence in sticking with and advancing in their careers — and their appetite for aspiring to leadership positions. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’ so I have taken seriously my role in demonstrating strong values that model inclusive behavior.”

Maria Blase, Ingersoll Rand’s president of tools, fluid and material handling, has had similar experiences in her supply chain career. "You're talking about a space that tends to be male-dominated, so it looks normal for there not to be a lot of gender diversity, especially in leadership," she told STEP Forward participants. "For that reason, you have to be conscious about increasing the visibility of women in those positions.”

Blase encouraged forum attendees to consider how they can help their companies have not only 50-50 representation when interviewing candidates, but also more diverse slates. Lee agreed, noting: “It’s really important to make sure you’re saying ‘slates’ and not ‘hires.’ If you have diversity in your slates, you’re much more likely to achieve diversity.”

I recently read The Bridgespan Group’s “Recruiting Diverse Talent,” which also urges hiring managers to reject any slate of candidates that doesn’t include enough diversity. “Make your candidate pool as broad as possible from the beginning by doing sufficient research to break into new target networks,” the report states. “One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is moving to the interview stage before getting a significant level of diversity in the initial pool.”

Here are some additional strategies I discovered at the forum:

Promote sponsor advocates. When more experienced women help young female professionals advance and grow, this leaves a legacy for both the senior and developing women. Blase told attendees not to be afraid of getting an occasional “no” when initiating such a relationship. “Think about those people in your career who would be great sponsors for your next job or promotion — and then just ask,” she said.

Address diversity-related issues intentionally. At STEP Forward, the challenge of work-life balance came up again and again. Blase noted that this topic is very personal, so it’s important that every woman understand how it works for her, without comparing herself to others. “I think we tend to look at someone who works 12 hours a day and say, ‘That’s what’s expected of me,’ without understanding that the other person might get a ton of pleasure from working those long hours,” she said.

“It’s the whole guilt thing,” added Courtney Ketchie Silver, president of Ketchie Inc., a machine shop in Concord, North Carolina. She went on to explain: “When I’m at work, I’m not a good mom; when I’m with my kids, I’m not a good businessperson.”

Silver copes with these issues by setting clear goals and checking on them often. “I don’t just think of goals to aim for; I ask ‘why.’ As in, why do I have this goal this year, this quarter, this month? The answer often removes some of the pressure.”

Do it for the right reasons. If “diversity and inclusion” are just empty words, objectives will not be realized. Initiatives must be thoughtfully built into career-progression models, and companies need to demonstrate to employees, partners and customers that diversity and inclusion is a top business priority. “We can’t just be doing it to check a box,” Silver said. “There’s a reason: to be better.”

Elizabeth Rennie is senior managing editor of publications for APICS. She may be contacted at

APICS partners with The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte in the STEP Ahead: Women in Manufacturing initiative. STEP Ahead inspires next-generation female leaders to pursue a career in manufacturing and showcases the amazing opportunities the manufacturing industry can offer. Learn more here.

The 2018 APICS Awards of Excellence will launch March 15. Learn more about the program here.

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