Earlier this year, my female coworkers asked me to join them at this year’s Society of Women Engineers conference — the world’s largest conference and career fair for women in engineering and technology. I was flattered but a little unsure why they’d want me to be there. (While being an all-around great guy is the intuitive response, it was not specifically mentioned by anyone.) But in all seriousness, I really wanted to know. So, we sat down for a conversation, and I have to admit, they enlightened me. What could (and should) a man do there? Turns out, a lot.
First off, there’s the obvious benefit of networking. I work in quality, and we work very closely with engineering and hire engineers on a continuous basis. This is a conference full of talented women in engineering—it will be a fantastic opportunity to chat with potential recruits.
But, as my coworkers so kindly pointed out, it’s not just whom I see, but who sees me. A visual representation of men at the event sends the message of support. That I (and Kohler Co.) support women’s careers, and that we are actively trying to recruit women in STEM.
Our discussion got more interesting when I asked them if they perceive a barrier to women advancing in the workforce? The answer was yes, and, honestly, I was disheartened. Reviewing the numbers from our Kohler Power Systems team in the U.S., 56% of those under the age 35 are female, 50% of the department leaders are female, and overall, 40% of our team members are female. So, what were these barriers? And, how was I not seeing them?
And then I realized, it’s about so much more than just the numbers. And I began to think, what if I’m blind to my own behavior? Is there more I need to be doing in addition to looking for diversity in the candidate pool and promoting women? What else should I be doing that I am not doing? Is there a behavior or belief I need to change? Our team is full of talented women and men that require the appropriate mentoring to continue growing. Our goal is to win and outperform the competition. We can’t do that if I’m blind to the needs of half the team.
So, the last, and most important, thing this man will be doing at the Society of Women Engineers conference is listening. Asking questions. Looking for specific examples of barriers and solutions to overcome them. I want to learn what I need to do … or need to do differently to become an active and visible ally to my female colleagues. I want to know if I have a blind spot. And when I get back, I’m going to share what I learn with my team—both women and men—so we can take action and continue this important conversation together.
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