Written by Chris McNamara
The gathering of manufacturing leaders in the conference room at Chicago’s MxD on October 4 was unusual for its celebratory feel. And, also, because this gathering of manufacturing leaders was predominately female.
The second-annual Influential Women In Manufacturing (IWIM) luncheon was underway, celebrating the 2019 class of professionals pushing boundaries—of all sorts—in the industrial space.
Erin Hallstrom, director of digital strategy with Food Processing, who created and co-founded the IWIM program with colleagues Alexis Gajewski, senior content strategist with Plant Services, and Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor of Plant Services, opened the ceremony with some background. “A few years ago, I found myself inspired by women in the food processing world,” she said. “This event has grown from there.”
The entrepreneurs celebrated here on this day embody the mantra of IWIM—Women Get Stuff Done. (That phrase was evident in the WGSD temporary tattoos sported by luncheon attendees.)
“We’re very excited to be here celebrating all women in manufacturing,” said the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development’s Erin Guthrie, who noted recent manufacturing events she’d attended that didn’t resemble this one in terms of gender percentages. “We have made incredible progress over the years. Congratulations to all of you women on what you have accomplished in manufacturing.”
Guthrie then presented the group a proclamation from the State of Illinois recognizing the accomplishments of these women and the IWIM collective.
Women in all verticals and a wide spectrum of fields rank among IWIM honorees—chemical manufacturing, pharmaceutical production, discrete and process industries, oil and gas, government, etc. Hallstrom stressed that IWIM honorees are not, exclusively, from the C-suite. There are plant managers and independent entrepreneurs, workforce-development specialists and engineers. Haley Stevens is a U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District. Crystal Taton is a systems-integration manager. This diversity of roles was noted in a letter from U.S. Senator (Illinois) Tammy Duckworth who recognized these women trailblazers.
“I think the tide is turning,” echoed David McKeown of the Institute of Asset Management concerning women’s roles in the industrial space. “Thank you for challenging the way things are. We need the different perspectives you bring.”
“I am so proud to stand here on Manufacturing Day with a group of women … this is amazing,” gushed Chandra Brown, MxD CEO, recognizing the special day (October 4) on which this event was scheduled.
Brown used this platform to detail her commitment to increasing diversity—of all sorts—in the manufacturing world. She then joined a panel alongside Kate Rome, president of Rome Grinding Solutions, and Navistar Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Leader Nicole Wiggins, who explored the topic of shifting roles in the dynamic world of modern manufacturing.
“Manufacturing needs talent. It needs innovation. It needs fresh perspectives,” said IWIM co-founder LaFave Grace, who moderated the panel. “Diversity in the workplace is not just a nice-to-have. It’s a need-to-have.”
Grace: We recognize the value of diversity, yet companies still struggle with achieving it. What practices are going to help diversify the talent pool?
Brown: The candidates are out there. We find those candidates. There is power in exposure—you have to join groups that aren’t always the same. Join organizations that are bigger than your own organization.
Wiggins: We have diversity programs that help. And at Navistar we do well at bringing in people at the entry level, but our leadership numbers are not there yet. We have been conducting unconscious-bias training to make people more aware.
Rome: My company is not as large—we have 40 employees from a town of 5,000 people. But it’s really about talking to people—asking them what kind of company they want to work for.
Grace: Diversity means having a seat at the table. Inclusion means having a voice. Belonging means having your voice heard. How do we get women’s voices heard?
Wiggins: Don’t assume your reality is someone else’s reality. Cultivate all relationships—women or men. And don’t be one of the women who is not supporting other women.
Brown: You have to create safe spaces for women to be heard. Getting to the table is one issue; the second issue is, once women are sitting at table, how are they heard? There are tactics. When I am sitting in a meeting I will call on the more-diverse folks. I try to make it as easy as possible for the less-privileged to be heard.
Rome: I agree. It’s about encouraging people. Telling them, “You are here for a reason. Speak up.”
Chris McNamara is the content director Influential Women in Manufacturing's sister program, Smart Industry.