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Photo courtesy of 3M
For Alison Heebsh, every work day feels different. As a Quality Specialist in the Automotive and Aerospace Solutions division at 3M, she’s responsible for ensuring that the company is producing high quality solutions on a global scale — which means that in the past 18 months, she’s gotten to work in both China and Europe, and she’s currently working with a team in Thailand.
Heebsh loves that her work is always changing, but she also loves that one thing has remained constant throughout her 15-plus years at 3M: she always feels well-supported. While working at 3M, Heebsh transitioned from male to female. Navigating this transition in and out of the workplace was no doubt complicated, but Heebsh says everyone at 3M — from her colleagues to managers — made it as easy as possible.
“My transition was a non-issue from the start,” she says. “Management was very accepting and did several things to make me feel welcome, including reassure me that things wouldn’t change – I would still have a place at 3M after the transition.”
Heebsh adds that she was promoted once in 10 years as a man, and she’s been promoted twice in the past six years since she transitioned.
Recently, Heebsh shared with us how her experience transitioning reflects her overall experience at 3M, what she loves most about her job, and the number one thing she thinks women should know about working at 3M.
Tell us a bit about your job. What are your main responsibilities in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
Currently, I am a quality specialist in the Automotive and Aerospace Solutions Division. I am responsible for ensuring that our acoustic solutions, primarily 3M™ Thinsulate™, are consistently high-quality, no matter which 3M plant is producing them around the world.
Before this role, I spent 14 years as a Chemist in the Drug Delivery and Pharmaceuticals Divisions, so I was in a completely different job and industry. That’s the cool thing about 3M: you can completely change careers but stay with the same company. Where I am now is a great fit and it’s fun to learn about the automotive industry.
What do you love most about your job? And what about 3M?
I love the ability to work with global colleagues and travel in my job. In the past 18 months, I’ve traveled to China for three weeks, Europe for two, and have met many amazing people. I’m currently working with our team in Thailand. I just love the global connections you make.
I love that 3M makes amazing products that touch people’s lives. It’s so exciting to be a part of that. It’s also a very welcoming place — I’ve never had any issues being openly LGBTQ. Lastly, I love that if you are performing at a high level and make your desires known, you can really advance and make a great career here.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Check my email and then depending on how quickly I can pull myself away, I do at least one Spanish lesson in Duolingo.
What’s the first (or last) thing you do at work every day?
It’s straight to meetings most mornings, but every day is different. Because I have a position with global reach, where I work and when I work is always changing. I usually have calls with Europe in the morning and Asia in the evening. The projects I work on are so varied, but most days end with me rushing to finish everything before going to pick up my kids and go home.
While at 3M, you went through a significant life change. Can you tell us a bit about what that was like?
I transitioned from male to female while at 3M. I had already worked at 3M for 10 years when I transitioned. I was well-connected and was leading a large STEM outreach group so there were a lot of people to tell. I was involved in the Pride LGBTQ Employee Resource Network (ERN) at 3M before I made the decision to transition, and I told them first before management. I was already out to the ERN and the HR benefits team for several years before my full-time transition.
In the year leading up to my full-time transition, I started to talk to my management team and select coworkers. Management was very accepting and did several things to make me feel welcome, including reassure me that things wouldn’t change – I would still have a place at 3M after the transition. My coworkers were also so kind through it all, and some of my female coworkers started inviting me to girls’ nights out. So, when the day of my transition came around, many people already knew. Things have always been really good. I wasn’t the first person to transition at 3M headquarters – to my knowledge, I was the third. And since then there have been several others, so it’s been great to meet with them to help them prepare, and then see them living as their true selves.
How did you approach your manager/supervisor to discuss what was going on? What was that conversation like?
When I talked to my manager over a year before, I laid out what I was going to do and explained that some HR representatives and executives already knew. That conversation was challenging for both of us. It was clear that he didn’t know how to respond and later said he was just afraid he’d say something wrong. But he was great about it. I stopped in a few days later with a technical question, and he had seen an article in the newspaper about something I had done with the Pride ERN group. So he showed that to me, and I knew that was his way of showing he cared. He started talking about the next role I was going to step into and how I could prepare for that, which helped me know that I still had a place at 3M.
In what ways did you feel well-supported by 3M as you navigated this personal change alongside your career?
My transition was a non-issue from the start. As long as I proved my value to the team, they kept giving me bigger challenges and promoting me, and that was so reassuring. I was promoted once in 10 years as a man, and I’ve been promoted twice in the past six years since my transition. Part of it is the opportunities I’ve been given, but part of it is because 3M has guidelines in place for handling this process, so people are not distracted by having to hide who they are.
How do you feel like this experience has been reflective of your overall experience at 3M? (In what other ways do you feel valued/well supported at your company?)
The support that I’ve felt through my transition has been the same support I’ve always felt here. All of the people I’ve reached out to have been responsive and willing to talk to me, including executives. I volunteered with 3M TWIST (Teachers Working in Science and Technology), where we bring STEM educators to campus to work on real research projects for a summer. We need executives’ support for much of the work we do, and they are always so willing to help.
What’s the no. 1 thing you think women should know about working at your company?
Women are truly respected and supported in their careers here. And they are definitely able to advance when they prove themselves. In my current position as an engineer the ratio is skewed to males, but people are always willing to work with you, especially if you speak up. It’s a great place to work, and there is definitely room to succeed and achieve.
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