Career Advice, Executive Feature

Women’s Work: Inside The Rising Trend of Female Leaders in Manufacturing

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James Brown famously sang, “This is a man’s world.” However, perhaps the most notable part of that chorus and song is the second verse: “…But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.”

And the refrain is perhaps no truer than in the male-dominated industry of manufacturing. Sure, most Americans think of men toiling on assembly lines, swinging machinery to craft everything from automobiles to appliances, but Whirlpool “wouldn’t be nothing” without the women. Just ask Kristin Day, Manufacturing Operations Director of Clothes Dryers at Whirlpool Corporation.

For over a decade, Day has risen the ranks as one of a group of strong women in Ohio manufacturing roles. She now oversees manufacturing operations for one of the most beloved appliances in American households, and she is a fierce advocate of recruiting women into manufacturing roles.

P150104 Kristin Day (1)

According to a recent report by Manufacturing Institute, Deloitte and APICS, entitled “Women in Manufacturing: Stepping up to Make an Impact That Matters,” women only make up 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce, while they are 47 percent of the overall labor market. However, the report also supports the notion that gender diversity increases innovation, return on equity and profitability. Furthermore, Day adds, women play a key role in recruiting other women to work in the industry.

Glassdoor’s Amy Elisa Jackson caught up with Day to discuss this state of manufacturing, how she is leading the charge to recruit more women to Whirlpool and what skills make anyone successful in the industry.

Glassdoor: How did you first break into manufacturing and find your passion for the industry?

Kristin Day: My passion for manufacturing started off as an internship in college where I worked in the automotive industry and when I graduated from school at Purdue University with a degree in Organizational Leadership in the School of technology. I actually never left manufacturing. I really developed the passion based on just the amount of complexity, change, and the fast paced environment that exists. I really grew my career through Whirlpool at our Tulsa Oklahoma plant where they make free standing ranges. I have basically grown up through the business. I have varying degrees of responsibility and really just, I love the opportunity to be here with Whirlpool.

Glassdoor: Are there soft skills or traits that you feel have made you an exceptional leader? In other words, what makes you the best at what you do?

Kristin Day: I would say that I believe that I received high marks due to my capabilities of leading high performing teams. It’s really about team development. I placed a strong emphasis on those. In order for a team to meet its full potential, I believe that all members must have a common purpose, mission, and value. As an executive leader, it’s really my job to make these things happen. When you have the right team really anything is possible. In addition to that, I really believe that in our environment, given how fast paced it is, it’s extremely important to have resource alignment and the right level of focus on key projects. It’s also important that I provide our team with timely, relevant and honest feedback so that we’re constantly improving. I also believe that I display a strong commitment to the people and to the team’s success. It’s basically about having a strong track record for developing future leaders, being a role model and delivering those business results.

Glassdoor: Was there an a-ha moment when you realized you had what it takes to build other leaders and manage?

Kristin Day: I would say that the skill set probably developed really just throughout the course of my life I was an athlete, a very active athlete throughout my childhood and I was a collegiate athlete at Purdue as well. I think some of those experiences that I had being on a team and being a captain of the team, being a leader on the field, being a leader off the field from an academic standpoint. I think all of those things to start at a very young age and just carried me through.

Glassdoor: One of the things I’m sure you hear all the time is that being a woman in leadership in manufacturing is rare. What are some of the factors at the core of this gender gap?

Kristin Day: For me, I really think it’s about promoting the field and talking about it any chance you get. I think that being a woman in manufacturing and being in the role that I am in, I have a responsibility to be a spokesperson for the field. I think it’s important for myself and my peers to really tell our story and to share experiences, our career path, the struggles and our accomplishments. I think by being open and transparent that it helps other women connect and consider, “You know what? I can do that too.” I think that this is how people can personally manage their career choices and also how to navigate through the tough times because being in this environment there are tough times.

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Glassdoor: How have you personally managed to navigate the tough times?

Kristin Day: Everyone has a bad day here or there. The key is to have composure and never let others see that you’re having a bad day. I think it’s important to keep things in perspective and to understand that the bad days won’t last because you’re going to do something about it and you’re going to take all the right actions to resolve what is in your control and if this is something that is not in your control you’re going to seek the support that you needed from your teams and other people’s teams to make things happen and get positive results.

Glassdoor: Can you give me an example of a time like this?

Kristin Day: A bad day for us is when we would consider the fact that we didn’t “win the day”. By “winning the day” that means that we had hit our metrics, everybody was safe. We had a great quality. Our output was positive and we delivered the demand that the customer was asking for. When we don’t “win the day,” I think the thing is to really understand why not and what actions can we put into place today for tomorrow so that we don’t have a repeat for some of the issues. It’s really about taking action very quickly.

Glassdoor: In your tenure, how have you seen the presence of women in the industry improve?

Kristin Day: As we look at some of those entry level positions, from our interns to our leadership development program, we’re starting to see more and more females getting into those male-dominated fields like engineering, electrical, mechanical. Even at the college level, I see a lot more young women going into different fields than they typically would have considered as male-dominated fields like engineering. It starts with creating that passion. When women have that passion, they carry it forward to their peers and then the future generations as well.

Within Whirlpool, we have the Whirlpool Women’s Network . This resource group that I help co-lead is focused on manufacturing within all of our Whirlpool sites. It really provides opportunities for people to grow. I do think that there are strong connections and we definitely leverage that.

Glassdoor: When you’re hiring, what do you look for in candidates? What makes someone a great fit either at Whirlpool? 

Kristin Day: There are some core things that I’m looking for. Passion is extremely important — being flexible, somebody who has a hunger to learn, strong leadership skills, someone who is a strong team player, someone who has the ability to multi task and balance, has strong values, a winning attitude and really embraces change.

Glassdoor: What is it about readily embracing change that makes someone great? What is the value of that soft skill for you as you have seen it play out in your career?

Kristin Day: It’s extremely important for people to understand that there will be change. There has to be change and we have to be capable of not only implementing change, but embracing it no matter what.

 

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