Archive for March 2017

I Know How it Feels

Council of the Baltic Sea States Summit 2012…when the handshake isn’t returned…when the answers to your questions are directed to the man in the room…when the good point you make is ignored until it is restated by your male peer…when eye contact is not made, invitations are not extended, emails are not returned, smiles are for the wrong reasons, hard work is not rewarded, …

As a woman executive in a technology field I’ve often been asked if it was harder for me to progress through my career as a woman. When I try to think of the big stories, I come up empty-handed. I was not blatantly discriminated against. No boss ever hit on me. I wasn’t asked to get the coffee or clean up the dishes in the break room. I have done well in my career. I started as an engineer and have been at the VP level at several exciting companies. Based on outward signs I’ve “made it”. But there is something not quite right about the journey that I only now am able to articulate and even now it is blurry and inconclusive.

The challenges faced by a woman in business are usually very subtle and thus are often dismissed or minimized. As a 30-year-old manager working with a Korean supplier I was surprised to find that the leaders would only talk with the men on my team. They would not shake hands with me. I had to convey my messages through the guys to get action. It was appalling and disheartening. But hey, this was another country with cultural hang-ups. It wouldn’t happen in the US…. But it did. As I rose through the ranks and engaged with other companies I realized that some men across the table did not make eye contact with me. Perhaps they answered my questions, but the answer was directed at the man in the room. At the end of the meeting there were awkward moments when I stuck my hand out with no response from the other. It was subtle. Maybe no one else saw. But I saw it and felt the impact.

The first reaction to a discriminatory snub is disbelief. That didn’t really happen, did it? I must be imagining. And then you try to write it off. It wasn’t personal. I don’t need to be bitchy about it. And then anger creeps in. What the heck. I was just dissed. Finally, you try to fix it. I’ll be more direct. I’ll call the guy on the phone.  A happy ending to this kind of cycle is when I pull the offender to my side. I show him my capabilities and he comes around. He listens and I’m given respect. Ah, but the energy expended takes a toll.

Next time I’m asked if it was harder for me as a woman I plan to say yes. But the stories aren’t grand and there is nothing obvious about the slightly steeper slope that I had to climb, but it was steeper for many subtle reasons.

I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”                              Nora Ephron, screenwriter

Made in USA: How We Do It Matters

house-of-strawHuff and Puff and Blow that Economy Down…

What is not to like about more US manufacturing? It is important to our economy, to national security and to the individuals needing jobs and purpose. A nation should be able to build the things that it needs. A hollowed out economy that is only exporting services is not a long term play.

But a revolution is not the solution. Shaming companies to come back is also not a simple anecdote. It took us over 20 years to dismantle our manufacturing prowess. We can’t bring it back overnight. Without some planning we will build a house of straw. We will alienate our trading partners. We will bring back jobs that we can’t fill because we don’t have trained workers. We will try to use the same processes and facilities we have always used and the result will be poor quality and expensive product. We will impact our economy because our goods will be more expensive. Finally, retaliation by other countries will slow down the exporting that we do today. The right way to bring back manufacturing is to consider all of the aspects of a strong foundation and to build a house out of brick. What will that entail?

  • Focus – What kind of manufacturing is right for this country? Given our higher standard of living we will not find enough workers for low skill tasks. The best products for re-shoring can be manufactured using automation, are high value or are heavy or bulky. Those kinds of products don’t rely on low wage workers and they cost a lot to move around. If the market is here you can eliminate shipping costs by building here. We also should consider where we can bring a competitive advantage. If we have access to materials and other natural resources, design expertise or automation capability we can do a better job than the competition and build product for the US market and also successfully export. Examples of good products for US manufacturing are appliances, vehicles, expensive electronic devices, machinery, robots and construction materials. It also makes sense to build close to home when a product is difficult to build and contains a lot of intellectual property. The interaction between manufacturing and design engineering is critical during a fast ramp and doing that close to home has time to market advantage. Time is money and fast to market protects IP.
  • Infrastructure – We need better roads and power and better access to human resource. State government officials in some locations are working on this. Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee  and Alabama are attracting more than their fair share of new manufacturing jobs because they have favorable policies, strengthening infrastructure and active government programs aimed at attracting companies. Each state needs to craft policies to attract the kind of industry that will be beneficial to the population.
  • Prepare the Workforce – In a 60 Minutes interview Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, said that one of the reasons that Apple needs to build phones in China is that the US doesn’t have a trained manufacturing labor force. The obstacle is not so great. If we package training with job opportunity at a living wage, the workforce will be available. Apple can not afford much labor content with this model but automation is a way around that roadblock. Increased automation will generate the need for other skills that we currently lack in the US. We need more manufacturing savvy engineers. We have the best higher education system in the world and there are many excellent programs that can meet this need. Those programs train engineers for the whole world. We can harness that momentum for our own workforce through part-time, online or even full time degree or certificate programs that are sponsored by companies in need of talent. This is an investment worth making and where some profit should be directed.
  • Government Support – Of course tax reduction is what comes to mind here and perhaps President Trump’s intention to increase the tax burden on companies importing goods will help fund education or infrastructure. But there are other ways our government can have a direct impact on a continuing manufacturing renaissance.
    • Training program sponsorship or tax credits
    • Increased community college support for practical apprenticeship type programs
    • Higher education support in the form of manufacturing and technology research grants
    • State or Federally sponsored manufacturing initiatives used to focus funds and research
    • Increased vigilance for fair trade 
    • Logical and sustainable regulations that solve for both competitiveness and the environment.
  • Leadership and Vision – When I worked with Canon, I was told that Canon just did not understand our actions. HP was making decisions for our stockholders. We were trying to minimize the tax burden and they felt that taxes were a patriotic duty. Losing jobs to China was a defeat and there was much debate prior to any movement of manufacturing. They believed that they could build the product with higher quality and with more process technology and therefore it would ultimately be less expensive. Perhaps we can’t turn public international companies into patriotic entities but with more visionary leadership and more action that drives innovation and competitiveness right here in the US,  companies can find a win for US manufacturing and for stockholders. The win is there. It will take leadership to invest in factories, commit to a plan that isn’t easy to pull off in the short term and then execute with determination.

There is a path to solid manufacturing growth in the US. It isn’t a move back to the 1970’s. We won’t go back to what manufacturing looked like then but neither will the rest of the world. The new era of manufacturing will be lean and automated. It will require an educated workforce and a supportive government. We will need the willpower and the leadership at high levels in government and industry to take a stand and to chart a path to a successful win-win future where the consumer gets a good “Made in the USA” product at a competitive price.

“All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.”     Benjamin Franklin