INSPIRING WOMEN AT BLUE SKY
When Jabil decided to sponsor and host WITI’s ‘Women in Green Energy and Automotive’ summit at our Blue Sky Center last month, it would have been hard to imagine the level of enthusiasm and inspiration the group would feel coming out of there! It was tremendous, to say the least.
From the keynote, presented by Susan Brennan, Chief Operations Officer for Bloom Energy, through the roundtables with guests from the entire industry, to the final dialogue I moderated with MaryAnn Wright, Group Vice President Technology and Industry Relations of Johnson Controls, and Lisa Bahash, SVP & GM of Jabil’s Transportation & Auto group, every speaker seemed to provide optimism, inspiration, and practical advice that would serve anyone wanting to succeed in technology.
Susan Seilheimer Brennan, who has 25 years of experience in global manufacturing and operations for the automotive and energy industries, opened the day sharing her story and her experience. She told the audience what led her to take on strategic leadership roles in Fortune 100 companies Nissan Motor and Ford Motor, where she is one of the few women to have held an executive position at a leading Japanese corporation, before moving to Silicon Valley to work in a major startup. Her current role is at Bloom Energy, Silicon Valley’s highly funded startup with more than $1b in investment funding.
Susan talked about how her first promotion at 29 was disguised by management who gave her the title line manager, even though the role was actually that of plant manager, and how that title was eventually given.
Shortly after this Susan moved to Ford, rising to become their first pregnant plant manager, throwing up almost every day for nine months. By the time her second child was on the way, Susan was director of multiple sites and on her way to becoming Director of Global Manufacturing Strategy.
But Susan, never happy when things seem to be running smoothly, left Ford to join Nissan in Tennessee to build and launch their first electric vehicle. At 51, she shook things up again by moving to Silicon Valley to join Bloom.
The lessons that Susan learned along the way and shared with the group offer real insight into the challenges faced by a woman who has clearly succeeded in a male-dominated environment. Many of those lessons were underlined by others throughout the day.
- Take care of yourself. This may seem simple, but it’s wise advice. It’s too easy to put work first and ignore health or family issues.
- Build and maintain a network. Surrounding yourself with the right mentors, advisers, and friends is essential, not just other women. Many of the leaders on stage talked about the women and the men that mentored, inspired, and supported them.
- Be a lifelong learner. Technology is fast moving and the energy and automotive sectors are moving faster than ever. Try to remember that every day is a school day. Susan suggests having a detailed plan to keep updated and informed.
Susan delivered her keynote with humor and with great insight into a career that has spanned a period where a great deal of change has occurred in the industries in which she has so successfully worked.
Susan was followed on stage by five women who have two things in common, extraordinary success in their chosen fields and a desire to support others following in their footsteps. Sarah Lovell is Vice President Commercial Asset Management at Longroad Energy, Anna Paderna, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is Head of Human Resources at Electronics Research Lab, Elizabeth I. Mayo, Ph.D., is Head of Department, Laboratory Services – DNV GL – Energy Advisory, Reema Poddar is Executive VP, Head of Business Operation at AdFender, and Jennifer Brace is User Interface Research Supervisor at Ford’s Innovation Center.
Here are a few highlights from what was a lively and interactive discussion between panel and audience.
- Be a mentor, not a martyr: don’t assume there’s a problem when perhaps there isn’t and don’t assume everything is because you’re a woman; there might be other reasons.
- Avoid ‘Imposter Syndrome’: that counterproductive feeling that you shouldn’t be in your role and that eventually you’ll get found out. All of us have an element of this, which can manifest when we emphasize what we don’t know rather than what we do know. If you’re in a role, it’s because you deserve to be.
- Don’t undermine others or even allow them to be undermined: if someone says they got the job because they are a woman, or for some other reason, politely point out why they are awesome at what they do and why they got the job on merit.
- Don’t instill self-doubt into people: it’s like the bad best friend that is always criticizing you! Don’t doubt yourself, look at why you got to where you are.
- Ask for help when you need it: you’ll be surprised how helpful people are! Look for the givers, not the takers.
- Deal with issues early: don’t let things fester and always make it about the work, not other stuff.
- Smile: “Say and do everything with a smile on your face and no malice in your heart.” Sage advice.
Finally, I closed the day with a panel discussion featuring MaryAnn Wright and Lisa J. Bahash, who as well as sharing their experiences as women in technology and manufacturing, discussed the rapid and exciting changes taking place in the automotive industry.
Following the debate, all three took time out of the networking session to speak to reporter, Philip Stoten, Scoop Communications, about their careers, the industry, and the day at Blue Sky. Here are the highlights of those talks:
At the end of a day like this, it is impossible not to leave inspired but also acutely aware of the work that is still needed to encourage young women, and young men for that matter, to enter a STEM career.
All the women on stage had wonderful stories to tell, all had succeeded in challenging areas, and all were happy to be part of a network that encourages and nurtures talent. If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is!