Panel: Women in manufacturing look at issues ‘at a different level’

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 539 views 

Being a woman in a manufacturing career may not be the norm or even easy, but panelists involved in the Women in Manufacturing-National Panel segment of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce Manufacturing Week activities Tuesday (Sept. 28) agreed there needs to be more females in the field.

Women bring something to the table that their male counterparts do not, said Dr. Kristin Tardif, associate professor of leadership at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and former executive for Nestle Foods. Women diversify the thinking in the room, Tardif said.

“We have a different outlook with employees, more empathy. We look at things at a different level,” she said.

Cynthia Herold, technical services manager at Primo Water North America, said she believes manufacturing companies get a lot more detail in thinking when women are part of the problem-solving team.

“Women tend to be a little deeper thinking. In problem solving and brainstorming, they bring a level of detail,” Herold said.

Dr. Susan Yturrapse, SAP program lead of NA Regional Project Operations and Revenue Forecasting, said because they are trying to prove something can be done, women often just don’t give up when it comes to solving a problem.

“Women tend to have the courage to fail. They have the courage to ask the question, try something different, take a risk. They are OK with being wrong,” said Connie Worbington, regional manufacturing project manager with Mars Pet Nutrition North America.

Because they bring a different perspective to the field, more women should be encouraged to enter manufacturing and female leaders in the field need to step up to help those women excel.

“As a female leader in our field I personally feel 100% obligated and responsible to sponsor, coach and mentor and pull in other females. I think those of us who are leaders in the field …, we are pioneers and we owe it to bring more (females) in and mentor and coach. Because if we don’t, who will?” Worbington said.

But being a female in a male-dominated field brings with it a set of challenges that these women leaders all acknowledge.

“Sometimes you don’t feel like you are being heard. You may have something to say, but nobody is listening. You’re not being heard by others, and so a guy will say the same thing that you said, and he will have been heard. That’s an issue that continues to happen. I think it’s hard to find strategies around that other than calling it out sometimes,” Yturrapse said.

There also are a number of stereotypes, such as women in the group are not the only ones who can order lunch, Worbington said. She added that with small stereotypes and nuances that continue to prevail in the field, it is up to women to work to change those.

“It’s up to us to say, ‘Hey, George can also order lunch,’” she said.

Herold said women definitely need to speak up as much as possible and to do so with a lot of confidence.

“You have to sometimes speak over people to be heard and that’s really unfortunate,” she said.

Women also have to go above and beyond and be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and prove they are capable, Tardif said. Another challenge for women in the field is other women, the panelists said.

“Through 20-something years of manufacturing in a facility had some of my biggest challenges with other females in my manufacturing world. I don’t know if it was competitive because we were such a minority that some people it’s almost like it was a me-or-you type of situation,” Worbington said. “Now it’s a whole female population supporting each other.”

Alex Benson, quality and process control supervisor at Hormel Foods in Fort Smith, attended the Zoom conference. She said as a woman she has looked at others and found behaviors and traits she didn’t want to model as a leader.

“I also feel responsible for being friendly and neutral and establishing a good working relationship to end the stigma that women must compete against each other,” Benson said.