Been doing this for a while. When I first entered the management ranks, few women held management positions. Even fewer women sat on the Plant Manager’s staff. (That statement should tell you I’ve been doing this a LONG while.) Back then, having a place at the conference table didn’t necessarily mean you had a voice. A conference table dominated by men could be intimidating.
In some plants, it could be difficult to be heard or taken seriously. Some women simply occupied their chairs. One lesson I learned from these experiences was: sometimes you have to be bold to be heard…!
Luckily I grew up with two non-traditional men, my father and grandfather, who endowed me with a never-give-up attitude and the skills to match the attitude. My grandfather wanted to ensure I could take care of myself – I was not allowed to borrow his spare car until I could demonstrate certain capabilities, including changing a flat tire. Dad demanded proficiency in any activity I shared with him, whether home improvement, auto repairs, or throwing a baseball. I owe my drive and my refusal to sit on the sidelines to these two men.
Reflecting on my journey in manufacturing from my start as a co-op student until now, one situation in particular stands out. Early in my career, I was the Production Control Leader / Scheduler for my plant. In this position I was technically a member of the Plant Manager’s staff. But quite honestly, there were times when it sure didn’t feel like I was regarded as a true member.
Discussions regarding plant policies, schedules, and other important topics took place in the Plant Manager’s staff meetings. A couple of hours in length, these meetings were held weekly. As with most meetings, the agenda would be ticking along with conversation progressing decently until at some point one of the staff would call for a break. Whether by plan or accident, it generally seemed the break was called just as the staff was close to reaching a decision on an issue. The men would file down the hall and into the Men’s Room, leaving me to wander, solo, to the Ladies’ Room.
Upon returning to the conference room, lo and behold, “the decision” would be announced. What?! When was this decided? It didn’t take long to figure out, this decision had been reached during some informal discussion in the Men’s Room! While there were times I was able to, somewhat belatedly, express my opinion on the decision that had been made, this informal decision-making process became somewhat of an established pattern. Something needed to be done, but what? How could I change the pattern without seeming like a whining or complaining female? (I had certainly heard enough side comments about those!)
One day, I decided enough was enough!
A break was announced, and the men trouped off to the Men’s Room. As the Plant Manager entered the bathroom facility, he politely held the door open behind him for the person he sensed was following, without noticing it was me. Taking a deep breath, I silently followed him into the entrance to the Men’s Room. A quick glance behind him to acknowledge who was entering brought him to a quick halt. It only took about a nano-second for him to realize who he had held the door for and say, “Ferrell! WHAT THE H*** DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” Several other heads swiveled in my direction and while I could see a few horrified looks, there were a few amused looks as well.
Summoning a smile, I responded, “Well, over the past several weeks, it has become apparent that this is where quite a few decisions have been made. I guess if I want to have input into those decisions, I’ll have to join this meeting as well!”
I could tell the Plant Manager couldn’t decide whether to have a stroke or burst out laughing. He literally looked like a fish gasping for air. Holding the door with one hand, he motioned me out with the other, saying, “we’ll talk after….”
Returning to the conference room, they all fixed a look on me – looks that ranged from offended to amused – but all wanted to discuss what had possessed me. I reminded them that for weeks, pending decisions were suddenly resolved after a trip to the Men’s Room. I provided them examples of several decisions where this process had excluded me from providing input.
Silence. Utter silence. Then the Plant Manager spoke, “Point taken. If I promise we’ll not make any decisions in the bathroom, will you PLEASE promise to not do this again?!”
Yep…sometimes to be part of the process you’ve got to be bold!
Being bold in your organization may require the added confidence of new perspectives and unique approaches. HVMC’s experienced team will join you in making difficult decisions and driving process improvements in your manufacturing facilities. Email firstname.lastname@example.org when you are ready to make it happen.