The Manufacturing Lifestyle: A Woman’s Perspective
One week from today the annual Women in Manufacturing event, Summit 2015, will get started, and hundreds of professionals, with titles ranging from production to CEO, will be there. For those in attendance, and even those who can’t make the trip, there’s a shared sense of pride, and commitment to the careers they pursue with passion. As the name suggests, there’s usually some discussion about the unique challenges and opportunities for women in a traditionally male-dominated field. This inspired us to get some thoughts from one of our own: Kelsey Karski, a young lady who joined our ranks here at Okuma just a few months ago. She gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s truly like to be a woman in today’s manufacturing environment.
Kelsey, tell us what you do at Okuma America.
As an electrical engineer, my role is to create the electrical components of options that go on our CNC machines. The machines come from Japan standard, and the customer has the option to have them customized. We create electrical drawings, wiring tables and the bill of materials for different options and how they’re laid out on our various machine tools.
What’s your experience been like so far, being a woman in manufacturing?
When I was in college, there were 100 students in a class, and only about 10 girls. So I got used to it, and I actually don’t even notice that anymore. When I joined my department at Okuma, my male colleagues jokingly said “so, we have to behave ourselves now?” I said, “you can if you want, but I’ve spent my whole life around guys - just be yourselves, it won’t bother me!” So we have some good-natured teasing and banter going on, but when it comes down to it, we’re all on the same wavelength. It’s definitely very comfortable to be around other engineers because they think the same way I do. I’ve taken to them, and hopefully they’ve taken to me, and it was pretty much instantaneous.
Is it pretty much what you expected?
Early in my career I went through some training where they gave special attention to the women, teaching us how to deal with discrimination and things like that. But I’ve never had to use any of that training, because everyone is so polite and extremely accepting. I’ve never once been challenged for being a woman. It’s been great.
Do women have any unique characteristics that make them valuable in manufacturing?
I can only speak from my own experience, but my first instinct is to say that I’m very detail-oriented, and I think a lot of women are that way. But then a lot of male engineers are very detail-oriented too. Another characteristic I’ve always had is being able to talk to people. I don’t always approach things from just a technical standpoint. I try to have good communications skills in addition to my technical skills.
Can you give us an example of “good communications skills?”
In my opinion, if a person is going to use technology, you need to make it so anyone can understand how it works. So I volunteered to make a manual on how to use all of our software and how to engineer the options. When I was done, they gave me a bit of a hard time about it, because it’s so long. I said “yes, but I didn’t skip a single step.” Anyone can read this manual and look at the pictures and do exactly what we do because I didn’t skip a step. To me, I think that’s one of the biggest skills to have, to be able to help even a non-technical person understand what you’re talking about. And actually, everyone seems to be pretty happy with that manual now.
What’s it like, being a new person at Okuma?
Okuma has a big company feel and a small family atmosphere. On my first day at least 10 people went out of their way to stop by at my cube, and they already knew my name and introduced themselves. Everyone is very friendly and they ask about you, and it’s just amazing how quickly you get absorbed into the family. I imagine that applies to customers as well.
Would you encourage young women to go into engineering and pursue a manufacturing career?
Yes! It’s one of those careers that shouldn’t be male-dominated because it's all about your intelligence, how you perceive things and how you plan things out. I think women are just as good at that as men are. So it definitely should be a field that includes more women. I'm used to not having a bunch of other women around, but nothing makes me happier than when I run into another female engineer.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I enjoy solving problems. Every challenge is something new, and you figure out a way to make the process more efficient and the ease of operation higher for the customer. I think that's what's truly rewarding, you're not performing mundane tasks. You're improving the process and you’re putting out quality controls, so users can make high-quality parts. Especially being in the CNC business, we’re in such a fast-growing technological market, there are endless possibilities for what you can accomplish.
Thank you Kelsey!
For you ladies out there, and even those who work alongside female colleagues – what are your thoughts about women in manufacturing? Please comment below and share your experiences. We’re interested to hear!
Kelsey Karski is Electrical Engineer, Okuma America Corporation.