Peer group provides support for women in manufacturing

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:43 pm

    The few women who have risen to powerful positions in the manufacturing industry, attaining positions such as president, chief financial officer, comptroller, operations manager, or chief engineer, are usually the only woman in their company’s leadership team.

    As the only women in their employer’s board room or leadership group, they don’t necessarily have female colleagues with whom they can discuss work issues, talk about their hopes for future promotions or solve problems.

    In response to that void, The Paranet Group, a Brookfield-based networking organization for manufacturing company managers, has created a place for women in non-traditional roles in manufacturing companies to network, share best practices and talk about workplace issues.

    The invitation-only group, named Latitude, is open only to women in leadership positions with manufacturing companies that have traditionally been held by men. Latitude has met quarterly for about one year.

    Because they aren’t normally able to associate with other women in parallel jobs, networking with other women is a rare opportunity, Latitude members say.

    “In my area, operations, there are not a lot of women,” said Lenore Lillie, vice president of operations for Milwaukee-based Koss Corp. “It’s a nice change of pace, to meet with women who are in your area.”

    While she is able to talk about operational strategies with her male colleagues in other groups within The Paranet Group, Lillie said she isn’t able to talk to them about what it’s like to be pregnant on the job or how to balance time with her kids and volunteering in the community.

    Similar, gender-specific concerns are what Latitude is all about, said Linda Kiedrowski, president of The Paranet Group.

    “They want to be the best they can be,” Kiedrowski said. “They (Latitude members) work with men and they work hard not to be known as the woman in the group. We want them to think of (them being women) as a plus, we want to highlight the fact that they are different. But at the same time, they don’t want to be promoted just because they are women.”

    Rhonda Sullivan, president of Lavelle Industries, a manufacturer of plumbing supplies based in Burlington, agreed. She said the topics that come up in conversations with her peers in Latitudes are different than other peer-based groups for manufacturing executives.

    “It’s just a different angle,” she said. “It’s not necessarily better, it’s just different. It’s an opportunity to have a smaller group and a really broad range of topics where you can hear different perspectives.”

    Sullivan was attracted to the group because it can show women that careers in manufacturing can be viable and that advancement is possible.

    “It’s just an opportunity to see that it exists (women in management positions in manufacturing) and the reality of the situation,” she said. “And most important, we can just show that it is a good field and that there are good opportunities in manufacturing, generally, for women.”

    Part of Latitude’s goal is to help raise the profile of women in manufacturing companies and to shine light on the women who are working in roles traditionally dominated by men, Kiedrowski said. For some of these women, the need is particularly strong because of their own tendencies to not draw attention to themselves, she said.

    “What we see today is women developing a higher profile instead of being a behind-the-scenes person,” Kiedrowski said. “We ask them, ‘How can we do that?’ Women don’t want to blow their own horn.”

    Latitude will help more women get hired in executive and management positions in manufacturing, Kiedrowski said, because The Paranet Group has easy access to top-level managers and executives for manufacturing companies.

    “Part of my job and role is to ask them, ‘How many women do you have on your board (of directors)?'” she said. “Most (manufacturing) companies are run by men. It takes a big leap to bring women on board. But I have fabulous candidates to sit on boards.”

    The members of Latitude can also play an important part in increasing the number of women in leadership positions in their companies, Kiedrowski said.

    “I ask them who they are bringing up, who they are mentoring,” she said. “Who have you identified in your organization to take your place or sit next to you on your team?”

    Latitude should also help younger women working as an engineer or finance director, for example, to draw on the experience of women who have been in the male-dominated manufacturing world for longer, Kiedrowski said.

    “The group can give perspective on large projects or workplace issues,” she said. “Things like, ‘Where does a VP of operations go from here?’ Or ‘How do you prepare for your next role?’ We’ll talk about it.”

    For more on The Paranet Group, visit For information about Latitude, call Linda Kiedrowski at (262) 796-2560.

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