Janet Johnson, President at ManufacturingAdvances.com

#WiMHearHerStory ,

Janet Johnson, President at ManufacturingAdvances.com
#WiMHearHerStory | @WomeninMFG

At Women in Manufacturing, we are committed to supporting women in the manufacturing sector. We firmly believe that mentorship and community-building will help attract and retain women in manufacturing. As part of our mission, we feature on our blog the stories of women we admire who are currently working in manufacturing. The following is the latest installment of our "Hear Her Story" series.

Please tell our readers a little bit about your job and what your work looks like every day.

I am a manufacturing consultant who works with small, family-owned factories to help them relieve the pressure of working with family members, keep and win big contracts and restore profitability.  I visit my clients and work side-by-side with them on subjects regarding job costing, lean organization and time management.  Every day is different!  One day I'm with a sign builder and another day, I'm with a welder. I love the variety!

How did you arrive at your current position? What attracted you to a career in manufacturing?

I grew up in manufacturing because my family started a powder metal parts factory when I was 11. I took over our factory when I was 22 and I loved learning new things, managing my shop and especially working with my buyers.  When I started my consultancy in 2010, right away I was pulled into the construction world, but I always knew I wanted to help small, family-owned shops. Because I lived through their challenges, I wanted to help those struggling in areas having to do with running and growing a factory.

At WiM, much of our work is dedicated to refuting outdated stereotypes about the manufacturing sector: stereotypes like the workplaces are dirty and dangerous and that the field and skills required are a better fit for men. Have you encountered stereotypes like these in your education or career and how did you overcome them?

I absolutely overcame those stereotypes by going back to school for manufacturing!  I went back to basics after I earned my traditional bachelor's degree in management and master's degree in business administration.  I learned shop math, blueprint reading, how to use a lathe and powder metallurgy.  I then took over the quoting responsibilities.  I openly advertised my company as "woman-owned and woman-led."  Some people laughed at me and my business description.  However, I didn't let that phase me.  I did their quotes, worked with engineers, brainstormed R&D ideas and talked through their blueprint design challenges with them. My technical abilities helped me overcome the stereotypes.   It also helped me earn our ISO 9001:2000 status and increase our sales by over 60% all within six months. 

Research shows that women, especially women in STEM fields, do better if they have a mentor. Has mentorship played any role in your career?

I had a mentor in 2004, a male vice president from General Electric.  2004 was a rough year for my business because a large customer that represented 80% of our sales relocated to China.  If it weren’t for my mentor encouraging me to use all of my investigative abilities as an MBA, I would have been stuck in confusion and my business would have been in trouble. 

Also in 2005, I hired a new production manager because I needed someone who was like me, who grew up in our industry and knew the shop floor like the back of his hand.  I knew I made the right choice because he didn't have an ego and was generous with sharing his knowledge.  He was always willing to teach me more about my machinery, part and tool design and general production. 

One of the key findings in WiM’s survey is that there is significant overlap between what young women want in careers and the attributes of careers in manufacturing today. But the survey also found that, too often, young women are not aware of the opportunities available in manufacturing. What do you think can be done to spread the word to women about career options in modern manufacturing?

I believe that we need to observe young girls and if they are interested in building, creating or inventing, we need to take special care.  We need to nurture their interest and not redirect them towards a career others might deem suitable for women.  For example, my daughter Koryn is 8-years-old and she identifies herself as an inventor.  She has always loved to build small homes, toys and even instruments.  I've taken her to a robotics competition and Lego and robotics clubs.  I plan on taking her to makers fairs.  I don't push her, but I follow her lead and choose activities that capture her interest.  If we can keep nurturing natural interest, then considering a career in manufacturing will be natural when the time comes.

Our survey also found that the majority of women in manufacturing today would recommend the sector to young women considering career options. Would you recommend a career in manufacturing? And, if so, why?

Absolutely!  I believe that manufacturing is a highly collaborative industry and women are perfectly suited for this teamwork culture.   I can't speak for all women but from personal experience, for too long, I let not knowing the technical aspects (such as blueprint reading) intimidate me.  However, once I learned, I realized that blueprint reading, design, quoting and production are a lot of fun!  It's really interesting and if women like to be challenged in that way, they should feel comfortable creating a career that stimulates their minds.