March 19, 2018

Gender diversity has ways to go in manufacturing

Photo | HBJ File
Photo | HBJ File
Jonna Gerken is president of the Society of Women Engineers.

Jonna Gerken of West Hartford is an engineering manager for Pratt & Whitney and 2018 president of the 38,000-member Society of Women Engineers, the world's largest peer organization advocating for and supporting women in the field.

One of her aims during her tenure is increasing young women's exposure to, and interest in, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curricula and careers.

Gerken shared her views with HBJ about the present and future of women in manufacturing and engineering.

Q: Women in manufacturing are being embraced more on the shop floor and as leaders in the executive suite — fact or fantasy?

A: Both! Although we have made big strides in representation in leadership, there is still work to be done on the shop floor. Females still need to be 'tough enough' to work on the floor, which tells me that everyone isn't being as inclusive as they could be.

Women bring a different perspective that should be embraced to make better decisions, not made to feel less than adequate if they don't possess the 'right' personality to make it day to day in the manufacturing environment.

Q: What do women bring more of to the manufacturing table as leaders than males?

A: Women bring a different perspective and typically, a more holistic view of how to solve a problem. We're (mostly) born multi-taskers and the manufacturing environment requires that skill every day. We also tend to be more thoughtful and considerate of all the stakeholders, listening to all sides and developing a solution that works for most, if not all of them.

Of course, this is a generality and some may say a stereotype, but it's my experience and has made the women I know successful — especially when working in teams in multiple locations and with different needs.

Q: What leadership hurdles still face women in manufacturing?

A: There is still much to do in tackling unconscious bias for women in manufacturing and all STEM fields. Company culture is typically not aligned with the values of true diversity and inclusion principles. Too much of what happens in leadership decision-making is about who you know and skills based on male-centered definitions of success.

For example, traits considered desirable in strong male leaders (quick decision-making, tough questioner, etc.) are seen as unattractive for women (bossy, pushy, etc.).

Q: Any other relevant thoughts?

A: Manufacturing is an exciting place to be for women and there are lots of opportunities. We can't effect change if we're not here to drive awareness, highlight biases, and be part of the conversation on improvements.

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