Jennifer Mausolf, Senior Program Manager at Dana Holding Corporation


Jennifer Mausolf, Senior Program Manager at Dana Holding Corporation
#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 senior program manager for a tier one automotive supplier that makes prop shafts and axles for all the major automobile companies.  I am assigned a customer and a future model vehicle (I'm currently working on a Chrysler model) and it’s my job from concept to launch to ensure the components and facilities are designed properly and within budget, trending to be on time with their products, successfully tested and ready for capacity by the launch date dictated by our customer.

What it means in reality is that I attend a lot of meetings, highlight problems or risk concerns and I coordinate a LOT of open issues. Every day is completely different, which I love, and there are both high-stress/high-action weeks and low-key times, which is what really saves us from burn out in the end.  I can be in a hard hat and steel-toed boots in a forging plant in Mexico for a week or I could be dressed up reviewing drawings, PowerPoint presentations, or a supplier’s timeline in a corporate office, it just depends on the week.

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

I grew up in Southeast Michigan and my family was comprised of teachers or Ford Motor Company employees.  I had high hopes of becoming a veterinarian and going away to school, but was offered a scholarship I couldn’t refuse by the local community college as I graduated high school.  I was a single mother at age 20, so my hopes of leaving town to go away to college and to take all the time needed to become a veterinarian just wasn’t in the cards.  Instead I worked as a full-time secretary in the corporate offices for a nationwide retail auto repair shop and I went to school at night.

When I finished my business degree, I knew I wanted to be in project management, but getting a job without any experience and without taking a cut in pay, was a little harder.  It took me about six months to find a small engineering shop that would take a risk on me, technically based on my degree and my ability to read blueprints. In all honesty, at that point I had been to so many interviews where I wasn’t hired, that I finally dropped the “ultra-professional” persona when I interviewed and was very open, honest and friendly.  It was a very important lesson at that point in my life: People hire other people they LIKE, not necessarily the one with the best resume or nicest suit.

I was 25 years old, had a five-year-old son that I adored and I was just hired into a job that I knew nothing about with an hour commute in good traffic.  Since the company hadn’t gotten their approved contract yet for the program, during my first weeks I was in jeans helping to build my own desk, staining wood and nailing down countertops.  Once the contract was approved, I was immediately on our shop floor with the men that did the work that I was supposed to be managing, many of them 20+ years my senior.  They had zero respect for me when I started, perhaps even contempt and why shouldn’t they?  They had to train me to manage them!  But when I left over a year later, these same grown men hugged me, shook my hand and asked me to stay in touch. The second biggest lesson I learned: No one hands out respect, you must earn it by being willing to work shoulder to shoulder and doing what you ask of others to do.  Occasionally buying lunch doesn’t hurt either!

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?

Yes, there are still some stereotypes out there, but I think it’s more important to consider the other person’s perspective and earn their respect.  The teams I have been on only want the best.  Once you have earned that reputation in your field – being a woman won’t be a consideration.

With the exception of my first job, I never really walk into a new situation alone.  I have my team with me.  Once I had a meeting arranged with a high-level manager of a different company.  When he and another manager arrived, I met them at the door and showed him into the conference room.  He asked me very politely, “Honey, would you get us a cup of coffee?” Obviously since I had met him at the door, since we all wore similar polo shirts with our company name and khakis, he had mistaken me for an assistant that was prepping the meeting, not the face of the company he was meeting with to win business.  My team in the room tensed, expecting me to say something I’m sure, to put him “in his place.”  But this is what I reference when I say, consider his perspective: He has no idea the error he’s made; he just wanted a cup of coffee, after what was likely a long trip to a small town.  The biggest mistake we make as women sometimes is ascribing intent to someone else’s actions.  I looked up, gave a small shake of my head to my guys and asked how they would like it.  I went and got the coffee and ensured they were settled in, then sat down at the table to start the meeting. The reaction on his face was priceless, he had embarrassed himself.  I didn’t have to raise my voice, create conflict, or potentially create a negative relationship with what could be a good company.  However, I didn’t lose in the exchange either.  My team was ready to jump to my defense at the nod of my head.  Instead, I earned the visitor’s respect by not making his error worse and graciously accepted his profuse apologies following the meeting.  Sometimes you can make a point, without saying a word.

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 think mentorship is key, but I think it’s also a buzzword.  Yes, mentors have been extremely important in my career.  No doubt, I wouldn’t be where I am today, nor where I plan to be in a few years without mentors.  However, I have never had a formal conversation with a single one calling it out as such.  I look around and see who I think is the most successful at what they do.  I do this quietly with my friends, with my co-workers and even with my family.  I’m unafraid to ask for help or training or to “tag along.” Learning from and emulating what others do better than you, makes you a more rounded individual.  Paying for someone’s lunch for an uninterrupted hour of their time or taking a day and following a great engineer around is the best time you will ever spend.

As a close second, I read a LOT of books and listen to audiobooks almost daily in the car.  As with business, if you aren’t growing you’re declining.  Business moves at a fast pace and yesterday’s results won’t get you tomorrow’s sales.  There are so many people that have gone before us and done this already – isn’t it worth an evening or a few hours to at least consider their recommendations and shortcuts, even if you reject them in the end? In my mind, mentoring is just constant learning by whatever means available.  Jim Rohn is one of my favorite speakers and I picked that up from one of my senior managers a few years ago – simply admiring his grace and ability in his job and asking/emulating what he did to be the best in his field.

As I hope to move into executive management in the next years of my career, I think sponsorship – someone advocating for you when you’re not in the room, will be the next important part of the mentorship process.  Overall as women, I think the biggest mistake we can make is in thinking that if we work hard enough, our efforts will be rewarded.  We need to continually learn, network and most importantly advocate for ourselves and for the next generation.

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?

The question above referenced STEM and I’ll be the first to tell you, I was terrible in math and only marginal in sciences.  I loved to read and therefore found English, History and Psychology classes much more interesting and where I excelled.  I didn’t pick this career for me then and I probably wouldn’t today knowing how terrible I am at all things “engineering.”  But this field isn’t only about numbers and being able to identify the shaded box when it’s “unfolded,” like in the standard testing.  This is about learning, understanding people, asking questions and understanding processes key to my specific role and organization.  I am good at those things and more importantly, there are so many other people that I interact with that are great at the things I’m not so hot with.

We need to push ourselves to forget “perfection.”  I am not perfectly suited to this role, but I love it and I’m good at it.   I couldn’t check-off every box even today, but I learn as I go and I delegate to those that are subject matter experts when necessary.  We need to learn to start where we are, with what we’ve got and not be afraid to bloom where we’re planted.  Forget the categorization of “woman”, “STEM”, “Engineering” or “Technical” and ask yourself what do you really want to do? 

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?

I want to be in charge of my own time and have the ability to be involved in my two boys’ schooling.

I want each day to be a bit different so I don’t get bored.  I want each program to be unique so I’m always challenged.  I want to be a part of an innovative and cutting-edge team.  This role has offered me that for the last 15 years and each year it gets better as I advance.  I couldn’t ask for more and yet I don’t fit into any one of the categories I’m supposed to.  I say, “Lean In” ladies and take every opportunity that comes your way and don’t waste your time worrying about what might go wrong.   Winston Churchill said, “Success isn’t final and failure isn’t fatal.” You can’t try new things without making mistakes – it’s a part of the process!  As Sheryl Sandberg said “If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat! Just get on.”