Veronica Braker, Vice President of Operations for Performance Materials, BASF Corporation

#WiMHearHerStory ,

Veronica Braker, Vice President of Operations for Performance Materials, BASF 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 currently the vice president of operations for performance materials at BASF. I have operational responsibility for 18 facilities. I have strategic oversight to ensure that the facilities run safely and efficiently. This includes capital planning, asset effectiveness and people development. Like most folks in manufacturing roles, there is rarely a day that looks the same. Process safety is a key focus for us, so I have daily process safety discussions which include incident investigations, project reviews and plant walkthroughs. I also spend a lot of time with our cross-functional leadership team to collaborate on product performance, growth opportunities and operational opportunities to keep us competitive.

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

I received my degree in Chemical Engineering. During my studies, I had the opportunity to intern with several manufacturing companies. I worked with Shell during my sophomore year, Proctor and Gamble my junior year, and Quaker Oaks Chemical during my senior year. I simply fell in love with manufacturing plants and the environment. I love the fast pace. I like to make changes and see the results very quickly. I have had the opportunity to learn and work with some amazing teams and people. There is nothing more energizing than working through an urgent and immediate issue with a group of highly motivated folks, or finally making a process improvement that addresses a decade-long performance issue. 

At WiM, much of our work is dedicated to refuting outdated stereotypes about the manufacturing sector: stereotypes like the workplaces are dirty and dangerous and that the field and skills required are a better fit for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?

Absolutely. In my first job out of school, I had an operator tell me that the plant was no place for a woman, and that he would never allow his wife, mother or daughter to work in a plant. I was honestly in shock. After that day, I made it my mission to spend as much time with him as possible. I would put him on my project teams, and I would join his plant audit teams. I drove him crazy. It took almost a year, but he eventually came to me on his own and apologized for his comment. He explained to me that he was just protective of women. I found that, as long as I was comfortable and confident, I was accepted.

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

Yes. I always tell people to get a mentor and be a mentor. Mentorship is so important. I have had multiple mentors throughout my career, formal and informal. They provide feedback, coaching, encouragement, challenge and support. They keep you stretching!

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?

It is critical to start a lot earlier than we have in the past. We need to be present and active in STEM programs from the elementary school level. We need to support programs that train our science teachers, as they are one of the first and most critical introduction to STEM. We need to be present in branding at conferences and career fairs. We should be encouraging our companies to have active programs that target women specifically for internships and other opportunities to have rich experiences.

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?

Yes, I absolutely recommend a career in manufacturing. It’s challenging, rewarding and the skills you exercise day in and day out prepare you to successfully take on complex problems. You learn to communicate and collaborate with people at all levels of the organization. You become comfortable in making decisions and using data to drive results.

Why did you decide to join Women in Manufacturing? How do you personally find value in WiM membership?

I decided to join for the networking, and the opportunity for continuous learning. The industry trends are always changing, and we are most effective when we understand how to predict and navigate. It also focuses on personal and professional development, which is important for continued growth. Sometimes, you just need a sounding board and the comfort of knowing that you’re not alone.