Karen Norheim, VP of Marketing & IT at American Crane Corporation


Karen Norheim, VP of Marketing & IT at American Crane 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 the executive vice president at American Crane and Equipment Corporation located in Douglassville, PA. American Crane is recognized as a leader in the design and manufacture of electric overhead traveling cranes, wire rope hoists and custom engineered lifting equipment. In my role, l support the president in overseeing all company operations with emphasis on continued expansion, growth and long term strategy. My daily activities can vary from planning sales and marketing activities to evaluating a business process for efficiency and cost savings. Some days I am on the shop floor, while others I am on my computer or meeting with my co-workers. There is a lot of variety in my work and I love that. We have a great team here which makes it very enjoyable to come to work.

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

I was recruited by a family member. One of the major milestones in my life was the decision to work for my father. At the time, I wondered “How fun could manufacturing be?” It’s been more than 13 years since I made one of the best decisions of my life. Through my work with American Crane and Equipment Corporation, I found my passion for manufacturing and engineering. Where else can you bring something from concept to physical existence? I get to help solve complex problems that have real impact for our customers.

At WiM, much of our work is dedicated to refuting outdated stereotypes about the manufacturing sector: stereotypes like the workplaces are dirty and dangerous and that the field and skills required are a better fit for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 definitely think that manufacturing needs to work on its reputation. No more dated, uncool stereotypes of mechanical engineers and dirty shop floors. If it hadn’t been for my father, I may not have considered a career in manufacturing. I would have missed out on the most rewarding job I have ever had. This is why we need to get the word out and share our passion with others!

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 have had several informal mentors in the course of my career who have been integral to my success. I am grateful to one of my old mentors who told me to follow the opportunity in front of me even if it meant leaving her to work somewhere else. She taught me the ability to see opportunities before me and be confident enough to take the plunge whether fruitful or not. Even in failures there are valuable lesson learned. Since then, I have had a couple of other mentors including my father who have been incredible in helping me find my way. I am very grateful to have them in my life. I hope to pay it forward and become a mentor myself, helping others through the lessons I have learned.

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?

As Hillary Clinton so aptly put it, "It takes a village" to raise a child. In the case of raising the next generation of women entering the manufacturing workforce, this is particularly true.

It takes a village — every one of us women in manufacturing — to ensure that there is a next generation of skilled women workers. When it comes to inspiring young women, it takes a village filled with those of us who are passionate about our careers and willing to be role models for those who hopefully will follow in our work boots and high heels.  

So how do we change the stereotype and spread the word? We start with our circles of influence. You can start small with manageable chunks so it's not so overwhelming. Start with your family and friends. Then look in your community for opportunities. Focus local, then expand. But start.

I've started with my own family. I gave my three-year-old niece a gift of GoldieBlox, books and building toys for girls. I took my six-year-old nephew and older niece to tour our facility at American Crane. Remember, it's never too early to start that flicker of interest. My friends are also not immune to my zeal; I share interesting manufacturing articles with them via social media.

Next, I've reached out to high schools and other community groups regarding possible partnerships, internships, site tours and mentoring. I've connected with coworkers at my company to encourage their participation in such efforts. I've expanded my circle to include trade groups, and I'm advising my alma mater, Penn State University, in hopes of growing support. And there are so many great efforts already happening that you can just pick one that suits your interests and start making a difference.

With your help, we can do more than create a spark of interest; we can turn that spark into a burning desire for women to join the ranks of American manufacturers.

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! Manufacturing is an orchestra of different people and skills coming together to create an end product. This can include sales, engineering, fabricating, purchasing, accounting, information technology and more. The coordination can provide an exciting work environment. Manufacturing also offers well-paying jobs with work that is both fun and rewarding. Plus, these days the manufacturing floor has so much technology integration which adds to the excitement. And, it’s just cool! I love to see our products go from concept to creation. It’s amazing!