From the factory floor to the boardroom: leadership tips for women in manufacturing
As a girl, I remember my father staying up late sketching out new ideas and spending long hours working in the factory he had built from the ground up. As a teenager, my first job was in the factory, sorting rubber bands. Manufacturing is in my blood, and I have my brother Richard to thank for teaching me a strong work ethic and for changing our culture to one of empowerment for our associates. As I worked my way up through sales and marketing to company president, I have seen and been a part of the natural progression of women in the manufacturing industry.
Women in manufacturing understand the importance of collaboration, hard work and investment in people. My advice for women in leadership roles is to capitalize on these attributes.
Choose a field you truly love
Above all, you must enjoy what you do to be any good at it. I was always interested in the family business. Throughout my life, I saw the ways local manufacturing benefited both the people who worked there and the community where the company was based. American manufacturing became my personal passion. This passion fuels business decisions, employee relations and my love of the job. My advice to any women in the industry is to enter a field you can enjoy and be passionate about.
Get as much valuable education as you can
Education does not, and should not, stop after you walk across the graduation stage. Learning is an ongoing process, especially in this age of technology. Actively take time to research what’s going on in your field. Are there new methods in development? What technology advancements are being made in machinery? Which companies are performing in the top of their class? As the industry grows, so should your knowledge.
Similarly, look for opportunities to learn. Look for classes, workshops, summits and conferences that could benefit you, your employees and your business. Whether it be on leadership, technical skill development or any interesting topic, always invest in valuable opportunities to learn. At Alliance we provide an EAP - Employees Tuition Assistance Program - to help with their further education. This not only widens the knowledge base of our employees, it also gets employees excited and even more invested in their work.
Surround yourself with people who know what they are doing
Work with people who push you. Their expertise and knowledge in their specific field should encourage, motivate and educate you, which strengthens you as a leader. Over 95 percent of our managers began on the factory floor. These individuals have worked their way up through the ranks and, as a result, know how intricately all jobs work together. They know what they’re doing and how it trickles down to every employee below them. Though I also began on the floor, there are many aspects of this company I am still learning. By surrounding myself with people who are experts in their field, I am constantly advised and inspired.
Focus on teamwork and collaboration
As a woman in a predominantly male-led field, there can be pressure to feel the need to overly assert myself as the primary leader and decision maker. I believe it is in everyone’s best interest to focus on and utilize the impact teamwork and collaboration have. As I stated earlier, surrounding yourself with key people is crucial. Use them. Bring in everyone’s specific skillsets and unique perspectives to create what it best for everyone. Not everything is meant to be the responsibility of one person. Good teamwork and collaboration are what sets great companies apart from good ones.
Prioritize helping others
My mom always said, "help somebody if you can". If you prioritize creating a positive and helpful work environment, that will reflect in your business. By establishing a precedent that employees are free to question, learn and assist their fellow peers or supervisors, they will feel much more comfortable and competent in their roles. A teaching atmosphere also allows an ease in the process of shifting roles within the company as associates rise through the ranks.
Reward your associates
As part of the positive, empowering environment you want to create, establish ways to reward your associates. Whether it be through providing educational opportunities, bonuses, a clear pathway to advancement and success or uplifting words from a supervisor, know that your people will be appreciative their hard work is recognized. We survey our associates what their favorite Alliance attribute is and the vast majority say "the people they work with." A positive culture is so vital to teamwork, and we benefit from the fact that we have less than a 5 percent annual turnover rate. When your workforce feels like family, your people will enjoy coming to work. Diversity is a strength for us and at Alliance we build leaders.
Be open to new technology and innovation — stay competitive
We are always looking for innovative, yet resourceful, ways to progress our methods and our products. Change can be scary. As a part of continuing your education, you should be aware of new technology entering your field. And while some new additions can be faulty, it’s your job to do the thorough research to determine whether these new advancements could be beneficial. Stay ahead of the curve in your industry. Don’t be afraid to fail! Not every new idea will be a success, but failing is an important part of learning and growing as a company.
Being a woman in an industry driven by men can be challenging. The great work ethic of our people, technology and innovation help us to overcome the challenge we have of having factory wages which are 13 times what our competition enjoy. I have tried to encourage women - in manufacturing and across all industries - to take on leadership roles and never settle. It takes patience, collaboration and lots of hard work.
Bonnie Spencer Swayze, president and CEO of Alliance Rubber Company, has led the company since 2008 and oversees the production of more than 2,200 skus of mailing, shipping, office and packaging products sold through dealers in 55 countries. Pioneering the women’s entrance into the boardroom, Swayze was the first female board member of the Wholesale Stationers Association and has served on the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council board and other HUB organizations.
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Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.