WiM Wisdom: Gwendolyn Schaad


What participants stand to gain in WiM’s carefully curated Leadership Consortium program

Gwendolyn Schaad has worked in manufacturing for more than 20 years. She’s currently an operations project manager for a WiM corporate member company, focusing on training and development for manufacturing employees.

Gwen has been a WiM supporter for several years and played a major role in the development of our Leadership Consortium program. Take a few minutes to learn more about this program, and what you/your organization stand to gain from participating:

In your opinion, why are programs, like Leadership Consortium, needed?

Participants in the Leadership Consortium will feel better equipped to lead and broaden their impact to their organization. We have so many amazing leaders in the manufacturing industry who have grown to higher levels in their respective organizations. However, they and their companies still face challenges or have opportunities for improvement. This program is designed to motivate and reinvigorate those leaders. By gathering leaders from different companies and giving them the space to focus on developing themselves, their teams and their businesses, we know new ideas and broader thinking will develop. We combine that with new insights on key leadership skills, such as creating a strong vision, engaging and empowering teams, managing through politics, as well as expanding awareness and influence.

You played an active role in the subcommittee that helped design the Leadership Consortium. Share with us some insights that came out of the collaborative design process.

Our team was made up of a few women that met virtually. We had different backgrounds, job roles and skill sets, but a common desire to create a great development experience for growing leaders in manufacturing.

I remember our first meeting vividly. As we went around the virtual room getting to know one another and sharing the structure and elements we felt important for the program, we immediately drew energy from each other. Despite our varied backgrounds, it was evident how much we had in common, the passion we each had for the project and how each of us could learn from our different perspectives. That dynamic and collaborative experience is the heart of what we felt a valuable leadership development program should offer participants.

We want participants to have a diverse cohort group to work with throughout the program, so they can gain new insights and be challenged with different ways of thinking. We want each of the participants to have a project they were passionate about working on, so everyone would have a shared goal to really turn their learning into tangible results. Through our discussions, we learned the members of our team had all experienced the value of being coached and learning to coach others. We wanted to bring that concept of a coaching approach into the program. It became a thread woven through the program, allowing people to gain exposure to the science, practice the behaviors and gain value they could translate into their roles.

What would you tell someone who is considering this program? What sets it apart?

Along with a great line-up of instructors with a variety of backgrounds and expertise, we anticipate a great deal of learning will come from the conversations their teaching initiates. Other key aspects that will set the program apart are:

  • Manufacturing Leaders Network - This program, like many leadership development programs, will expand the network of the participants. The unique opportunity this program offers is a network of professionals pulled from within the manufacturing industry, experiencing similar
  • Applied Strategic Learning - Rather than a one- or two-time learning event that is remembered as a great experience, we wanted a longer running program that would give participants time to develop by learning in smaller, more focused sessions that build on one another. We wanted them to take time in between to reflect, express ideas and apply learning. Learning application will include peer coaching, as well as a real project related to their role/company.
  • Virtual Connection - We know many programs these days have been converted to a virtual space. This one is a little different. Though we did originally plan to include two short face-to-face sessions, the program structure and content were designed with a virtual backbone since we started development in 2019. Not only did that allow us to stretch the program duration, but it would help draw participants from many locations to build relationships—true bonds—that would provide them with a trusted network they could stay connected with long after completing the course. Many participants may also deal with having to build similar connections, creating a safe and collaborative environment while working with team members in other locations. This program will give them a great opportunity to explore different methods of connecting with others for greater impact in any space.
WiM’s Leadership Consortium will be open to both men and women. Why did the team decide to open it to men, as well?

Our environment today has really brought a focus on truly valuing diversity and creating an inclusive environment. To do that, we felt compelled to include both men and women in the program, to help everyone understand and appreciate their differences.

Manufacturing has historically had very male-dominated roles; however, the current evolution of the manufacturing landscape has created a more diverse group of people entering the industry as the need for new skillsets and talents are identified. There are gender biases that exist, especially in manufacturing environments, but we need both men and women to be a part of helping break those down.

Did anything in the development of the program surprise you?

The development process itself was a pleasant surprise. I have worked on internal projects to develop programs before, but never had I been a part of that large of a project managed across different companies in a virtual space with colleagues I didn’t know.

We were all determined for the project to be successful, but I don’t believe any of us expected the long-lasting bond that was created. We were able to quickly create a safe space to work, express ideas and concerns, give constructive feedback, as well as trust each other to divide the work.

That experience only confirmed for us that it was possible to build a valuable network virtually, that even over time continues to encourage, motivate and stretch us to try something new. 

How does the peer element of the program benefit participants?

There is a great deal of value participants will gain from the broadened network connections and diverse perspectives gained through relationships built with peers. Additionally, the peer group interactions are designed to create built-in practice on techniques and tools for growth in coaching skills for managers, constructive feedback and team engagement.

More about Gwen: 

Born and raised in Iowa, Gwen attended Murray State University. Her three teenage boys keep her busy, but when possible, she enjoys playing the cello, drawing, painting, sewing and singing at church with her husband. As a family, they enjoy hiking, canoeing, rock climbing and traveling, especially to mountainous areas in the U.S., the countryside of Italy and more remote locations in Brazil. She seeks to find the places less traveled, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the beauty of nature, culture and the unique stories behind old homes and buildings she discovers on the road.

More about Leadership Consortium:

Registration is now open for Leadership Consortium, an executive education program concentrating on issues pertinent to managers of managers working in the manufacturing industry. Hone your leadership skills and build your network through education, reflection and peer coaching. The comprehensive curriculum is an outcome-based, cohort style training program focused on: broadening personal impact, creating an introspection on building and rebuilding teams, transforming the leaders of tomorrow, leading with a vision, as well as connecting and engaging people to a shared vision. Learn more at https://www.womeninmanufacturing.org/leadership-consortium-.