Manufacturing month events highlight women in STEM

Today, I’m going to a step back from some of the more technical news I’ve been covering in this Off-Site Insights blog to recognize just a few of the Manufacturing Month/Manufacturing Day events that are bringing together many professionals to encourage the growth of this important U.S. industry.

On Oct. 5, Manufacturing Day, Control, Putman Media and Influential Women in Manufacturing (IWIM) welcomed more than 80 people, including nearly 20 of the 2019 IWIM honorees (Read about all 27 in the new eBook), at MxD in Chicago for the second annual IWIM Awards Luncheon. Men and women alike came together for inspiring remarks from Erin Hallstrom, co-founder of IWIM and director of digital strategy for, who opened the event sharing the inspiration for the IWIM program, its goals and vision.

Following Hallstrom’s remarks, Erin Guthrie, Illinois Department of commerce and Economic Development, took the stage to present the IWIM team with a proclamation from the State of Illinois recognizing the team and IWIM collectively.

David McKeown, current board member and former CEO of The Institute for Asset Management, then shared the Institute’s North American vision and the influence of women in the industry.

“I think the tide is turning,” he said. “Thank you for challenging the way things are. We need the different perspectives you bring.”

Most notable, in my humble opinion, was the panel discussion moderated by Christine LaFave Grace, co-founder of IWIM and managing editor of Plant Services. The lineup included Chandra Brown, 2019 IWIM honoree and CEO of MxD; Kate Rome, 2019 IWIM honoree and president of Rome Grinding Solutions; and Nicole Wiggins, corporate diversity and inclusion leader at Navistar. Rather than focusing on the challenges STEM women face, the panel focused on how to create more diverse, innovative and effective workforces, and encourage and grow future women in STEM.

“Don’t assume your reality is someone else’s reality,” Wiggins said. “Cultivate all relationships—women or men. And don’t be one of the women who is not supporting other women.”

Wiggins shared some of the ways Navistar works to support diversity, including diversity programs, bringing people in and helping them grow.

“We have been conducting unconscious-bias training to make people more aware,” she said.

Brown echoed the sentiment, noting that leaders need to encourage inclusion and help lift up those who may not be heard.

“You have to create safe spaces for women to be heard,” she said. “Getting to the table is one issue; the second issue is, once women are sitting at the table, how are they heard? There are tactics. When I am sitting in a meeting, I will call on the more-diverse folks. I try to make it as easy as possible for the less-privileged to be heard.”

Rome echoed: “I agree. It’s about encouraging people, telling them, ‘You are here for a reason. Speak up.’”

Living in Chicagoland, I was lucky enough to be able to also attend mHUB’s Women in Manufacturing and Engineering Day on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Guthrie presented mHUB with a proclamation from the State of Illinois recognizing its team at the event.

For the keynote, JoAnna Sohovich, CEO of The Chamberlain Group, shared how STEM opened a world of opportunity for her, from high school and through the U.S. Naval Academy, to now. Throughout this time, she realized that her lack of privilege was actually preparing her for success.

For example, two of her male high school peers had also applied to the Naval Academy, but because their privilege had allowed them to avoid taking certain classes, they had to take an extra year of schooling before they could enter the Academy. Sohovich, who was forced to take these courses, was able to immediately enter the Academy.

Sohovich started her career as an officer in the U.S. Navy, and recalled being one of six women stationed on a battleship after the Combat Exclusion Law was lifted in 1994.

“I’m not sure why it was protective of women to put them on ships that couldn’t defend themselves, but I was glad when that changed,” she said.

Although the law had changed, the culture took time to follow, but Sohovich never let that make her change.

“I had confidence that I had the ability to learn things. If you don’t have confidence to learn things and ask questions people might think are stupid, you won’t get anywhere,” she said.

It was the many lessons she learned in the military that helped her continue to remain confident as a leader when she entered the commercial space, working first at Honeywell and moving to Stanley Black & Decker before taking her current position at The Chamberlain Group.

“I like to think my story is old news, and other people won’t have to transit the same path, but I also think we have to work to change the path,” she said.

Following the Keynote address, a panel moderated by Brown and featuring Katie Byczek, program manager at Navistar; Aneesa Muthana, president, CEO and co-owner of Pioneer Service Inc.; and Sona Shah, CEO and co-founder of Neopenda, took the stage. The panel discussed the obstacles they faced coming up in their careers, how they managed them and how others can do so while encouraging their peers as well.

“We all have innate skills and tools. … Maybe I use my screwdriver most of the time, but when I’m in the board room, I have to be comfortable using that sledgehammer,” Brown said. “… You don’t need to use the sledgehammer often, but you should know how to use it. … you have to practice and stand up and be heard.”

Muthana reminded the audience that things change.

“You have to realize and accept that it’s a temporary position, and know that when you do work hard, someone will notice,” she said.

Byczek encouraged growing mentor networks and building give-and-take relationships with mentors who can help with career development.

“You have to remember that the conversation can’t just be, what can you do for me? You really need to be clear about how you can help their bottom line,” she said.

The event ended with a collaborative activity and tours of the mHUB facility.