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Women in Manufacturing is a community created by Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) members and designed exclusively for women who have chosen a career in the manufacturing industry, and want to share perspectives, gain cutting edge manufacturing information, improve leadership and communication skills, participate in sponsoring programs and network with industry peers. Visit the Women in Manufacturing website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hear Her Story: Lesa Nichols

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 the stories of women we admire who are currently working in manufacturing here on our blog.  The following is the latest installment of our "Hear Her Story" series.

Hear Her Story: Lesa Nichols, Owner, Lesa Nichols Consulting
Lesa Nichols

Lesa Nichols grew up the only daughter in a family of boys.  Her stepfather worked in manufacturing management and she remembers how he used his skills to tackle household projects.  “We never called for a repairman,” she says fondly.  “He would just say, ‘let’s get this out to the garage and fix it.’”  As a young girl, she admired her stepfather’s ability to take something apart, analyze the pieces, and put back together an even better product.  She didn’t know it then, but she would acquire those same skills in her own manufacturing career.

Manufacturing is a social science

Lesa calls her landing in manufacturing something of “serendipity.”  While pursuing her undergraduate degree at The University of Louisville, a professor approached Lesa with a special opportunity - a position in the Washington, DC office of a Kentucky senator.  Her time in the nation’s capital stimulated her natural curiosity and Lesa knew she wanted a career that would foster her love of learning.

After completing her studies in communication in 1986, Lesa joined a Kentucky public relations firm and began working with the firm’s client, Toyota.  Toyota was new to Kentucky in those days and initially had only a small office there.  While working with the PR firm, Lesa was assigned the lead role for Toyota’s external relations and she quickly amassed responsibilities from writing a community newsletter to penning speeches for Fujio Cho, who was then president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing U.S.A., Inc.  It was in this role that Lesa first understood manufacturing to be more than a technical career.  Mr. Cho and her other mentors at Toyota emphasized the humanistic element to manufacturing and encouraged Lesa’s interest in group dynamics and best practices for communication strategies.

Eventually Lesa left the PR firm and joined Toyota full-time, where she rose to a position in  top-level management.  Over the course of 16 years, she became a master of the Toyota Production System (TPS), a method of pulling together all elements needed for manufacturing: people, equipment, materials and information into a production system that visualizes problems as they happen.   Following this model, she lead the introduction of TPS, with high level problem solving teams at numerous successful facility start-ups and tune-ups across the United States.

A Surreal Experience 

After a five-year stint with the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership, Lesa formed her own group which she calls, Lesa Nichols Consulting.

She ruefully reports that she was often one of only a few women at the management table during her time at Toyota and that, as she has formed her own business, she’s often surrounded by male counterparts.
It was that reality that first attracted Lesa to Women in Manufacturing™.  “I was actually first turned on to WiM by one of my clients several years ago,” she confides.  “And I was not sure whether I wanted to get involved since the organization was just beginning.”

But when Lesa attended her first WiM SUMMIT in Detroit in 2013, she was glad that she did.  “I was really blown away by the caliber of people,” she says.  “I was so used to being alone as a woman – It was overwhelming and a surreal experience.”

Lesa works with "LEGO Serious Play

It was also at last year’s WIM SUMMIT that Lesa had what she calls “an epiphany.”  During a presentation by Robert Rasmussen on the “LEGO Serious Play” methodology, Lesa felt years of manufacturing sector leadership coming together with her communication background.  “This,” she thought, “is how to break down barriers and connect people quickly.”  She was so inspired that she traveled to London for a four-day training to become a facilitator for the program which she will now incorporate into her work with clients.

Lesa describes her work today as collaborative, examining a company and advising on top-level management and organizational design.  “It’s like tearing something apart to look at it,” she says, “And then working with company leaders to put it back together even better than it was before.”  And that’s something Lesa knows well.

Third Annual Women in Automotive Luncheon and Panel Just 15 Days Away

In just 15 days, we'll be gathering in Novi, MI the third annual Women in Automotive Luncheon and Panel.

This event is a must-attend program for all professional women in the automotive sector.  It includes a networking lunch, and conversational panel with key women leaders in the automotive industry.

The panel will include:

  • Sonia Rief, Director, Exterior, Thermal and Accessory Engineering at Nissan North America
  • Marcy Klevorn, Director, Office of the CIO at Ford Motor Company
  • Anita Burke, Vehicle Chief Engineer (2015 GMC Canyon), General Motors Company
  • Carol Jean “CJ” Milner, Supplier Account Manager, Renault Nissan Purchasing Organization

The panel will be moderated by Laurie Harbour, President and CEO of Harbour Results Inc.

Visit our website for more information about the event and to register.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Real Life Rosies at the White House

One of our favorite stories is the legacy of Rosie the Riveter - the story of some 20 million women who went to work in factories across the United States when men were deployed during WWII.  Under the banner of "We Can Do It!" these women filled much-needed positions as welders, electritions and, of course, riveters. 

This week, some of these real life Rosies were honored at the White House.

Watch the news report from ABC for the whole, touching story.

Friday, April 4, 2014

7-Year-Old Challenges LEGO and We Love It

Did you see this letter from 7-year-old Charlotte to LEGO?  We saw it on the Huffington Post site today.

She reports that she recently went to a store and...well, she wasn't pleased.  Check it out -

Here's what she wrote -

Dear Lego company,
My name is Charlotte. I am 7 years old and I love legos but I don't like that there are more lego boy people and barely any lego girls. today I went to a store and saw legos in two sections the girls pink and the boys blue. All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks. I want you to make more lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun ok!?!
Thank you.
from Charlotte

Amen, Charlotte!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New WiM Chapter Opening Tomorrow at Purdue University College of Technology at Anderson: Kickoff Event Tomorrow

WiM is launching a new campus chapter this week at Purdue University College of Technology at Anderson.  See our press release below about the kickoff event scheduled for tomorrow afternoon!

Women in Manufacturing™ Launches Campus Chapter
at Purdue University College of Technology at Anderson

CLEVELAND, OH—Women in Manufacturing™ (WiM) is pleased to announce the launch of a campus chapter at Purdue University College of Technology at Anderson (IN).

This new chapter will host a kickoff luncheon on Tuesday, March 27, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at Purdue University College of Technology Anderson, Commons Area – First Floor, 2705 Enterprise Drive, Anderson, IN.  This event will celebrate the first joint chapter meeting between Women in Manufacturing™ and Purdue Anderson College of Technology with lunch, guest speakers and networking opportunities.

WiM – Purdue Anderson is directed by Lorri Barnett, a continuing lecturer of technology leadership and innovation at the university.  Ms. Barnett says that she envisions this collaboration between WiM and Purdue University College of Technology at Anderson as a way to provide education and awareness to young females about the career opportunities that exist in manufacturing-related industries.

“Our students are always looking for student-led organizations where they may showcase their leadership and industry-related technology skills,” Barnett says. “We are hopeful this partnership will fulfill those goals while providing quality networking opportunities to both organizations.”

The WiM – Purdue Anderson campus chapter is the second of its kind across the country.  WiM launched its inaugural chapter in 2013 with Brigham Young University.  Campus chapters are designed to bring together and celebrate young women, and to educate them about the possibilities associated with manufacturing careers.

Campus chapters should typically meet bimonthly and meetings range in subject matter based on the interests of members.  Each campus chapter is pioneered and run by a WiM member. Contact Kristin Moore at 216-901-8800 or kmoore@pma.org if interested in starting your own WiM campus chapter.

For more information or to register for the WiM – Purdue Anderson meeting on March 27, visit www.womeninmanufacturing.org.

Women in Manufacturing™ is a nearly 400-member-strong national organization dedicated to the attraction, retention and advancement of women who are pursuing or have chosen a career in the manufacturing industry.  This group encourages the engagement of women who want to share perspectives, gain cutting-edge manufacturing information, improve leadership and communication skills, participate in sponsoring programs and network with industry peers. Members benefit from exclusive access to regional and national programming, networking opportunities, mentoring and sponsoring programs, monthly professional development webinars, a customized employment tool called WiMWorks, online discussion communities, the quarterly Impact e-newsletter and a robust searchable online directory.

WiM Director Quoted in Financial Post Article About Image of Manufacturing

A long article was published today by the Financial Post: "Conventional image of ‘dirty’ manufacturing scaring away critical talent pool of smart, skilled women."

The piece by Dan Ovsey is definitely worth a read.

Our own WiM director Allison Grealis sets the tone in the opening paragraphs.  "I think the biggest challenge we face is that many women don’t feel that manufacturing is a fit for them, because I don’t think they understand what manufacturing is," she is quoted as saying. "They still, unfortunately, perceive manufacturing as dark and dingy, dirty, dead-end careers, and not a pleasant place to be."

Much of the article's data content won't be a surprise to our readers because we've shared many of the same troubling statistics about women in STEM here.  But the real meat of the piece can be found in the compelling case studies of real women who have made careers in manufacturing.

Read the full article for testimony from Zoe Slumkoski, a young welder with big dreams, Natalie Panek, a rocket scientist who is working on creating the next generation of space robots, and celebrity metal fabricator and reality TV star Jessi Combs.

In the article, Allison says, "If you look at modern manufacturing facilities, they’re high tech, they’re often state-of-the-art operations; they’re clean and very modern. Unfortunately people don’t see today what current manufacturing jobs are like."

Go to the Financial Post to see how Allison, WiM, and others in our sector are fighting negative stereotypes and bringing women to manufacturing today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Aspen Institute Calls Women Untapped Resource for U.S. Manufacturing Sector

Update: You can watch the livestream of the event mentioned below - 



"One untapped resource to address the problem remains in plain view: women are increasingly outperforming men in acquiring advanced skills, but are under-represented in both the manufacturing workforce and in the specialized S.T.E.M. fields most in demand in today's industrial economy."

This from a new article published in the Huffington Post this week by Thomas Duesterberg, executive director of the manufacturing and society program at the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC.

The article includes lots of data we've written about on our blog before: Women outpacing men in attaining degrees, women underperforming in the manufacturing sector and in STEM fields, etc.

But it also includes some stats that are new to us - Duesterberg writes about recently released data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  The data is pulled from a 2012 test of 15-year-olds in 70 countries.  Results show that boys outperform girls in mathematics, but only when girls are less motivated or confident about their skills.

Duesterberg explains that these results bolster theories that girls are often given early signals that push them away from STEM and, in turn, manufacturing.

To solve this problem, Duesterberg says - "Any improvement in some of these discouraging numbers about women in S.T.E.M. fields and in manufacturing will require concerted effort over a long period of time, but it must start early, when girls are considering which academic field to pursue and processing cultural signals about careers. In addition to efforts to inspire and motivate girls to go into S.T.E.M. fields, manufacturers need to increase the ranks of women in leadership roles, provide a supportive work environment, and encourage long-term mentoring of promising women."


And the Aspen Institute is not just talking.  They are taking action.  Next week, they're hosting a lunch discussion titled, "Filling the Skills Gap in Manufacturing: The Untapped Resource."  Here are the details -

The Manufacturing Program of the Aspen Institute, in partnership with the Association for
Women in Science and the Bertelsmann Foundation, invites you to a lunch discussion:

Filling the Skills Gap in Manufacturing:
The Untapped Resource

March 18, 2014
12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
The Aspen Institute
1 Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 700


Karen A. Fletcher
Vice President, DuPont Engineering and Chief Engineer, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

Antoinette (Tonie) Leatherberry
Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and Member of the Board

Former Senator Blanche Lincoln
Founder and Principal, Lincoln Policy Group

Dr. Elizabeth Woo 
Vice President of Corporate Accounts, Sales, Biotechnology Market and
Application Specialist Program, Thermo Fisher Scientific Corporation

Moderated By:  Dr. Theresa A. Maldonado
Director of the Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC),
Directorate for Engineering, National Science Foundation

Econometric work at The Aspen Institute and elsewhere shows that a main barrier to a strong resurgence in the manufacturing sector is the need for more skilled workers.  Women are increasingly outperforming men in acquiring advanced skills and college degrees, yet, are vastly underrepresented in the manufacturing workforce.  This growing sector would greatly benefit from a more diverse workforce that taps into this talent pool, and women could gain entry to a broad variety of high paying and creative careers.  Providing incentives for women to enter the manufacturing sector requires vision and concerted effort.  Young women need to be encouraged to enter the sector and acquire the skills needed to succeed.  Manufacturers need to increase the ranks of women in leadership and mentoring roles, and provide a supportive environment for employees to integrate work and personal responsibilities.  The panel discussion will explore these issues.

A light buffet lunch will be served.  RSVP required.  To register click here.