Diana Peters grew up spending her weekends at her father's tool and die shop in Illinois. And although she began her career in law, the manufacturing industry called her back home. Peters founded the Symbol Training Institute in 2005 to address the shortage of skilled labor in manufacturing. Now, Symbol has two locations and is a nationally ranked program. 

We spoke to Peters about the path that brought her to career development work, how she shut down doubters that thought a woman couldn't impact a male-dominated industry and what she thinks it takes to succeed in any entrepreneurial endeavor. Then, she shared the self-help book she considers a must-read and what she does to unwind from her busy schedule. 

Fairygodboss of the Week: Diana Peters

Executive Director, Symbol Training Institute

Greater Chicago Area

Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?

I started out working at a law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, but I always had an itch to return to manufacturing. My father had a tool and die shop that he started back in 1985, where I would spend most of my weekends with him. After Kirkland, I founded Symbol Training Institute to combat the skilled labor shortage that is plaguing the manufacturing industry. I helped turn my father's small machine shop Symbol Tool Inc. into a world-class training center with two locations.  Symbol is also the No. 1 ranked National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credential provider in the nation, and our graduates account for 25% of all NIMS credentials earned in Illinois.  

What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?

My proudest accomplishment besides starting my family and currently raising three young children is the fact that Symbol has positively impacted literally thousands of lives — from our students to the community to the manufacturers. Our impact has mainly been in Illinois, but we have also had a national impact as some of our students relocate. I am also very glad to be representing women in the manufacturing workforce, and  to serve and mentor other women.  I currently head up the local Women In Manufacturing (WiM) Illinois chapter, as well as serve as President of a 501c3 called Manufacturing Next that I founded with the intent to empower women and youth to enter the manufacturing and STEAM fields.  

What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?

The main challenge I faced was starting Symbol Training Institute and ensuring that it would be a viable enterprise. It took a lot of hard work and overcoming many naysayers, like any woman in a male dominated field can relate to.  Once Symbol became established from a reputation standpoint, it's been a pure joy. But my team and I always have to be on top of the industry trends, especially as a top educator.  

Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?

Karin Norrington Reaves from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. She is an inspiration and a true force in the world of workforce development. She leads by example, and is a great role model for any female CEO or president.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I like to wind down and spend time with my husband and three kids. I also like to cook. 

If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?

Princess Diana. My mother and I always had a fascination with her and all of the people  that she inspired globally.  

What is your karaoke song?

Escape (The Pina Colada Song).  It's always a crowd pleaser!

What is your favorite movie?

A tie between Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing. These were the movies I would watch constantly with my mom growing up.  

What book would you bring with you on a desert island?

Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill.  It would hopefully motivate me to find a way to get off the desert island.

What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?

My shopping vice is shoes. If I won the lottery, I would buy myself a Ferrarri — I've wanted to drive one since I was a kid.  

What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?

You must find the confidence within yourself that you might not even know that you have. It requires a lot of self-reflection and a drive to succeed and to block out the doubters.  It sounds cliche, but you have to believe in yourself as there will be times when you will be the only one who believes. 

Why do you love where you work?

I love having the ability to positively impact and inspire our students, all while providing a much-needed solution to the skilled labor epidemic that is impacting the advanced manufacturing workforce.

Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.