By Edwin B. Smith
University of Mississippi
As Women’s History Month drew to a close, female students at the University of Mississippi in STEM fields were strongly encouraged to empower themselves in the male-dominated manufacturing industry at a conference of a day.
More than 150 attendees gathered Thursday, March 31 at The Inn at Ole Miss for “Step Forward: Advancing Women in Manufacturing,” hosted by the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence and the Manufacturing Institute. MI is the education and workforce partner of the National Association of Manufacturers.
“The conference accomplished everything we had hoped for,” said Scott Kilpatrick, Acting Director of CME. “The students took the opportunity to meet and learn from successful female leaders in manufacturing.
“The speakers represented a cross section of women at various stages of their careers, from high achievers to seasoned veterans.”
Leslie Petrie, Vice President of Global Environment, Health and Safety for International Paper, delivered the keynote, encouraging attendees to be flexible and open to change.
“Don’t be afraid of different experiences when charting your career path,” Petrie said. “Embrace change! Life begins outside of our comfort zones, so expose yourself to new people and new places.
Petrie also encouraged the predominantly female audience to be good stewards of their talents by asking lots of questions and being observant.
“That’s how I went from being a good math student in small town Wisconsin to my current senior executive job in Memphis,” she said.
Three CME alumni returned to campus to share their career journeys during a mid-morning panel discussion. Joanna Harrelson, professor of practice in UM’s Department of Chemical Engineering, moderated the Q&A session which included Harleigh Huggins, head of planning and development for AkzoNobel; Lauren Kiel, business analyst for McKinsey & Co.; and Elizabeth Taylor, quality engineering manager at Toyota Motor Manufacturing.
Questions discussed by panelists included finding your career path, facing and overcoming challenges, career advancement strategies, finding and becoming role models, and balancing personal and professional goals.
Encouraging networking and interaction, Al Jorgenson, Vice President of Strategic Engagement and Inclusion for MI, divided the audience into three groups for a “Reciprocity Ring” session.
During the 90-minute exercise, individuals shared personal and professional requests with other members of their group. At the end of the session, all participants had the opportunity to receive support from each other.
After lunch, two professionals shared their toughest challenges and how they managed to overcome obstacles head-on. Presenters for the segment in TED Talk format were Swee Har Wilcox, Human Resources Director of Ceco Door/ASSA ABLOY; and Alyssa Van Delden, melt shop supervisor for Nucor Steel Kankakee, Inc.
“The most important lessons I learned after the factory I was managing closed were to build relationships, put people first, take care of business, focus on your mission, get out off the beaten path and celebrate it all,” Wilcox said.
Van Delden, who said her goal was to become the first female smelter shop manager in her company’s history, encouraged women to persevere in their career goals.
“I’m not afraid of making mistakes along the way,” she said. “There will be challenges along the way to achieve your goals, but keep working on it. It will become easier.
Several successful leaders shared tips and secrets for success in “What I Wish I’d Known,” moderated by Courtney Taylor, associate director of strategy and programs at Accelerate Mississippi. The panelists were Emily Lauder, vice president of Toyota Manufacturing Mississippi; Frankie Adaire, operations manager at Raytheon; and Transito James, director of operations at Milwaukee Tool.
“It’s so important to listen, learn, and then jump in,” Lauder said. “Don’t be so quick to make changes before you understand how things work.”
Women in leadership positions must learn to accept feedback and delegate responsibility, Adair said. “Nobody expects you to know it all or do it all on your own,” she said.
James echoed Adair’s observation.
“Always be sensitive to micro-messaging that’s going on within their company,” James said. “Knowing the thoughts of the people you supervise can make or break your success as a manager.
“Be aware of subtle dissatisfactions which, if left unaddressed, could become major issues later on.”
Closing workshops focused on recruiting a personal board and building your own brand.
For more information on STEP Forward, contact STEPahead@nam.org.