Women in Leadership: 4 Key Takeaways for the Career Journey

April 2024 | By Danielle Hochstein, Ph.D.

It’s been somewhat of an annual tradition for me to attend the Women in Leadership panel at the American Manufacturing Summit and share the highlights. This year’s panel discussion brought together five senior leaders: Joy Malinowski from Constellation Brands, Elena Bernado from Hello Fresh, Susanne Lauda from AGCO, Donna Deyo from Paccar, and Angela Reamer from Monin. They generously shared stories from their career journeys and the learnings that can support the path forward for women in the field.   

Women in leadership

Such a path is no small feat in a labor market where only 24.6% of leadership roles are held by women. Manufacturing remains a male-dominated industry, and a quick scan of the attendees and presenters at the summit aligned with that trend. 

In the past, these panels have emphasized how such a path relies on finding mentors early and staying resilient. By extension, this presentation validated the degree to which career moves also tend to take a lattice rather than ladder trajectory. For women still carving out their paths and the mentors and sponsors supporting them, here are some key takeaways for shaping a positive and fulfilling career journey: 

  • Leadership Effectiveness: Everyone agreed that this depends on continuous learning and genuine empathy while breaking down barriers. I really liked Susanne’s comment about how we can support women by dropping their names and accomplishments in meetings with other executives. It’s a concept we’ve called positive gossip, which not only elevates key performers but also boosts team morale. 
  • Critical Skills: The two that stood out were listening and practicing servant leadership. Joy emphasized the importance of listening broadly to what people want and need, starting on the shop floor and even extending to the equipment itself, which we can also hear. Donna highlighted how practicing servant leadership is a way to always respect employees and realize that you’re there to enable them to be successful first and foremost.  
  • Career Barriers: Early successes can actually narrow down one’s opportunities into a single Subject Matter Expert (SME) area, which results in getting the same type of work. It can lead to a feeling of being “stuck.” Elena’s solution was to encourage people to intentionally network and broaden their skillset and perspective so that they have more options as they continue to progress, which may include considering a lateral move.  
  • Success Mindset: It’s the result of overcoming our own biases, especially about certain jobs being associated more with men. Overcoming this bias remains critical to expanding the scope of role transitions for women and understanding where soft skills can make a difference in plant and operations management. 

Overall, the panelists called out how important it is for people to feel valued while moving through their own career journey, which is bound to have a speed and rhythm distinct from anyone else’s. What worked for one leader may not work for someone else, and this realization helps bring an appreciation for diversity into the way we interact with our teams every day. As Angela said, “What gives you energy is different for everyone, and opportunities to get involved can reach and include everyone.” 

The audience appreciated this message of inclusion, as it related directly to a common theme across the keynote and plenary talks: recognizing the human side of manufacturing success and sustainability. It also aligned nicely with this year’s International Women’s Day theme: Inspiring Inclusion 

Are you committed to mentoring or sponsoring the women who will pioneer the next generation of leadership in your industry? Have you inspired someone to channel their leadership potential into a meaningful career journey? My team and I would love to hear your insights and advice in the comments!  

Topics: Leadership, Women in the workplace