At Women in Manufacturing, we are committed to supporting women in the manufacturing sector. We firmly believe that mentorship and community-buildling will help attract and retain women in manufacturing. As part of our mission, we feature on our blog the stories of women we admire who are currently working in manufacturing. The following is the latest installment of our "Hear Her Story" series.
Associate Food Scientist II
#HearHerStory / @womeninmfg
Associate Food Scientist II
#HearHerStory / @womeninmfg
Please tell our readers a little bit about your job and what your work looks like every day.
I’m a food scientist in research and development with Post Cereal; right now I’m working on Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles and any new products in that brand. I develop new products and quality improvements for the Pebbles brand. Typically, I spend half my day working in the lab, trying out new formulas and the other half at my desk working on the computer. I work with ingredient suppliers, create specifications, develop formulas, order ingredients and attend meetings on our projects. I also plan and oversee plant trials, where we try out our formula and scale it up to the production facility. I also help troubleshoot issues in the production facility when the formula doesn’t scale-up quite the way we planned. Sometimes, I get to work on consumer information like taste testing, focus groups and developing questionnaires to better understand consumer wants or needs. Every day I do something different; it’s definitely not monotonous.
How did you arrive at your current position? What attracted you to a career in manufacturing?
I stumbled into Food Science when I was going to school at Brigham Young University. I started in a major that was not what I thought it would be and I felt I needed to find a job that could provide for me, and one day, my family. A job like that was definitely not possible with a Classical Studies degree. I scoured the majors list and didn’t see what would fit me, especially since I wanted a job that I would be happy to do every day. Tall order, right? I worked on my generals for the next semester and tried out the Introduction to Food Science class. I’d heard from friends that it was a fun, easy class, full of free food each week, so why not? After my second class, I was hooked. Now I can’t imagine what kind of job I’d be doing if it wasn’t food science!
At WiM, much of our work is dedicated to refuting outdated stereotypes about the manufacturing sector: stereotypes like the workplaces are dirty and dangerous and that the field and skills required are a better fit for men. Have you encountered stereotypes like these in your education or career and how did you overcome them?
I’ve encountered multiple stereotypes, but they’re less about manufacturing stereotypes and more about being a capable woman in the man-dominated industry of manufacturing. The majority of our department is comprised of women and we tell each other when we find sturdy, well-fitting clothes or shoes or safety glasses. Just because it’s a man’s world, doesn’t mean I have to dress like one! We’ve had to ask for women’s sizes when ordering uniforms because men’s sizes just aren’t meant for women. It can also be difficult making your voice heard when you’re 20 years younger and a woman. It’s a struggle to give input without coming across as overconfident and cocky. You have to craft your message carefully and sometimes you just want them to listen so you talk louder. Doing so will automatically kill whatever message you are trying to convey. Women have to work harder at managing their emotions when they’re angry or overwhelmed.
Research shows that women, especially women in STEM fields, do better if they have a mentor. Has mentorship played any role in your career?
Mentoring has played a huge role in my career. The first few years out of college, I didn’t have an official mentor, just colleagues I’d talk with sometimes. About a year ago, I realized I was unsure of how to handle a few situations at work and started looking for a mentor and asked a senior product developer. She and I meet to discuss any difficulties I come up against while at work and solutions. She has helped me strengthen areas I’m struggling in and taught me how to use my strengths to my advantage. It’s invaluable to have someone you trust to bring up things you could do better and help you learn the skills you need. It’s also very helpful to have someone who sees your interactions with others and can offer advice or correction for future situations. In the last year we’ve worked together, I’ve made great progress in my ability to handle difficult situations and in my confidence to deal with constant changes. It doesn’t need to be another woman, just someone who you feel comfortable talking with about questions or issues you have over the course of your work, someone to show you how to maneuver your way through promotions, raises, etc. You also may want to follow a specific mentoring guide as well, currently we are using “The Mentor’s Guide” by Lois J. Zachary. It is full of questions that can generate discussion and keep you from discussing the same thing over and over. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for your personal and professional development!
WiM recently unveiled new survey results. One of the key findings is that there is significant overlap between what young women want in careers and the attributes of careers in manufacturing today. But the survey also found that, too often, young women are not aware of the opportunities available in manufacturing. What do you think can be done to spread the word to women about career options in modern manufacturing?
Word of mouth is a powerful thing. I tell people about my job, everywhere I go, especially to anyone who is in high school or college and looking for a major. My husband tells people about my job, because he thinks I have the coolest job around, and together we encourage people to look into food science. It always surprises people when I talk about my profession because so few people know it’s a real job! I remember how I had never heard of it, and how amazing it was to hear about such a job. I want to give others that same opportunity. I always have a stack of business cards to give out with the offer to help answer any questions they might have about food science. Volunteering at any level of school is valuable. Teaching your kids and their friends about it is powerful. My sister-in-law just had a mad scientist birthday party for her 7-year-old and 12 of her friends. They did all kinds of science experiments and had a blast. We as women are the ones who decide what the next generation will be like and introducing students to STEM jobs needs to start earlier. If we want more women in the field we need to be visible to the world. Girls need mentors; they need to see someone doing a job and think, “maybe I could do that someday!” We need to volunteer, talk about our jobs and be accessible! Schools, girls’ groups, church groups, friends, family, our kids, even random strangers can all benefit from our willingness to volunteer, and influence the next generation of women in manufacturing.
Our survey also found that the majority of women in manufacturing today would recommend the sector to young women considering career options. Would you recommend a career in manufacturing? And, if so, why?
I never would have thought about a job in manufacturing when I was in high school, even in college! It never was something that appealed to me; I could only picture being a line worker and the drudgery that can come with that type of position, day in and day out. When I found Food Science and learned that I could be making new food products and live inside “How It’s Made,” I became much more interested. I didn’t realize that there were more than just line workers who work in manufacturing—it takes everyone working together: R&D, quality, engineering, operations, sanitation and more. Sometimes you get dirty, sometimes not. You’re not always in the manufacturing facility either. I go out a few times a week but spend the most time in my office and lab. I have a part in making food that influences people. What I make can influence others and I have a voice that wants to be heard.