Ignition Community Live: Women in Automation Today

58 min video  /  49 minute read


Kristine Zukose

Director of Community Alliances

Inductive Automation

Stephanie Neil

Senior Editor

Automation World

Loe Cameron

Senior Director - Digital Innovation

Pall Corporation

Kathy Applebaum

Software Engineering Department Manager

Inductive Automation

Shay Johnson

Sales Engineer

Inductive Automation

Despite many recent technological innovations, certain aspects of the manufacturing industry are slow to change. Case in point: Women are still underrepresented in manufacturing. What kinds of obstacles do women face as they pursue a career in this field? How can industrial organizations be more effective in recruiting, retaining, and promoting women? What will tomorrow’s manufacturing landscape look like? Don’t miss this Ignition Community Live webinar, where an all-female panel of experienced automation professionals will discuss these and other important questions that everyone in our field needs to think about.


Kristine: Welcome to Ignition Community Live, thanks for joining us. This is Episode 28: “Women In Automation Today.” My name is Kristine Zukose, I'm the Director of Community Alliances here at Inductive Automation, and I'm hosting today's episode. I've got a great panel of guests with me today. First we have Stephanie Neil, she's the senior editor of Automation World and editor-in-chief of OEM Magazine. Next we have Loe Cameron, who is Senior Director of Digital Innovation at Pall Corporation. Next up, Kathy Applebaum, who is the Software Engineering Group Manager here at Inductive. And last but not least, Shay Johnson, who's Sales Engineer here at Inductive. Panelists, later we're gonna talk in greater depth about your backgrounds and how you entered your respective fields, but for now, could you each tell us a little bit more about your organizations and your roles there? Stephanie, why don't we start with you? 

Stephanie: Great. Thank you, Kristine. So, I'm Stephanie Neil, and I work for PMMI Media Group, and that is a division of PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technology. It's probably best known for the Pack Expo trade shows. And as Kristine said, I work on two publications in the media group. OEM Magazine is covering business and technology issues and trends for machine builders, specifically. And Automation World covers all manufacturing technologies for every single industry segment, but I focus on doing beverage and CPG and Pharma, and I also have a very keen interest in workforce issues, so that's all about me.

Kristine: Thanks, Stephanie, thank you for being here. Alright, Loe, over to you.

Loe: Hi, I'm Loe Cameron. I work at Pall Corporation, and we provide products into the life sciences industry. And so, we're supporting our customers and developing biopharmaceutical products, and my team is responsible for looking at all of our products and seeing if there's ways that we can make them easier to use, we can make them more robust, we can make them more advanced with digital technologies. So, we focus in on the automation of the products, but also layers of software above them as well as measurement technologies.

Kristine: Very cool. Thank you, Loe. Kathy, you're up.

Kathy: Hi, I'm Kathy Applebaum. I'm a software engineer and group manager here at Inductive Automation. I'm gonna assume that most of our listeners are familiar with Inductive, but if you're not, we make some really awesome HMI and SCADA software for automation and other industries. I started out here as a junior engineer then a senior engineer, and now I have 17 people under me.

Kristine: Love it. Thanks, Kathy. Okay, Shay, you're up.

Shay: Thank you. So, my name is Shay Johnson, I'm a sales engineer here with Inductive Automation. I get to work closely with the sales team to provide demonstrations, discuss architectures, help customers figure out how to accomplish the functionality they're looking for with our software, but I also get to work on our general internal trainings in a variety of different tasks. So, it's always something different and it's really fun.

Kristine: Thank you, Shay. Thank you, all of you ladies. It's great to have you here. Before we get into our discussion, let's give a short overview of what we're talking about and why. It really comes down to two words: the future. Manufacturers need to build up their future workforce, and they're struggling to find enough workers to fill their job positions. They need young people who are entering the workforce to consider careers in manufacturing and bringing more women into the industry is a very important piece of that puzzle. Currently, women are underrepresented. A study found that fewer than one in three manufacturing professionals are women, even though women make up almost half of overall workforce in the US. Even more importantly, creating a diverse workforce is essential to creating a better world where there are more opportunities for everyone.

Kristine: So today, we brought together our panelists to discuss these questions as well as to share their own experiences. Here's what we'll be talking about. How our panelists became interested in technology and working in their field. What kinds of obstacles they've faced in their careers. How industrial organizations can do a better job of recruiting and retaining women. How COVID has impacted the industry in general, and women specifically. What projects our panelists are excited about working on. Where technology is heading and how manufacturing’s landscape might change in the near future, and how our panelists would like to contribute to the evolution of the industrial space overall. Then we're gonna wrap up by answering questions from the audience. Okay, let's go ahead and get started. Here is my first question for you: interest in technology, what got you interested in or covering this field? Did you always have an interest in automation or were there specific experiences or influences that pointed you in that direction? Loe, let's go ahead and start with you.

Loe: Yeah, sure. So, I do not have a background in automation, I'm a bioprocess engineer. So, my background is in developing processes and bio-reactors. And one of the first things I noticed is that automation really defined the features of these bioreactors and the kinds of processes that I could develop, and I got really interested in breaking down those barriers. I wanted to do things that my systems wouldn't do. And so, I continued to work with software engineers and eventually it landed at a company that is solving those problems at the product level. So, it's really just chasing the problems back to the source to unlock those barriers for future generations of bioprocess engineers.

Kristine: Thanks Loe, grateful. What about you, Kathy? 

Kathy: So, I've always loved puzzles and solving problems, and tech is a really good way to immediately see if your solutions to those problems have worked or not. So, by accident, I found myself working for a robotics firm, and that's how I became interested in seeing what automation could do and how robots specifically were used in that. And while I was at that firm, I was combing through a copy of Automation World and found out about Inductive Automation and that they were doing cool things, and so I applied and got hired here.

Kristine: I didn't know that. What a great connection. Alright, with that, over to you, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Well, okay. I'm not an engineer, nor did I have a great interest in science or math growing up, but my first job out of school was as a B2B IT journalist in the enterprise space. And then I got offered a job to cover manufacturing, and frankly, I did not want to. I probably had the same preconceived notions as many people do, that manufacturing is a dark and dull and dangerous and dirty place, and honestly, I have walked through many plants that are exactly that way. But I have, dare I say, been covering this space for a couple of decades now, and I've seen an enormous transformation. These sites are now very modern and clean and bright and safe, and a lot of that has to do because of the automation and the technology that is in place. So, it's a very different environment. And for me, over the years, I have just really come to understand that manufacturing is the economic engine of this country. And so, it's really important that we uncover everything that's going on, and that we also emphasize the great career opportunities that are available.

Kristine: Absolutely. Thanks, Stephanie. Alright, Shay.

Shay: Yeah. So, actually early on, I wasn't very interested in working in technology, I had always been very tech-savvy and able to kind of figure things out, and I loved that, but I wanted to be a journalist, I wanted to be a writer. It was actually people in my family that worked in information technology and information security that encouraged me to give it a chance and start looking into it. And once I took my first computer science course, I was halfway through the semester, I've always enjoyed finding ways to help people, with writing, it was commonly making information accessible and finding ways to share it with people. And with technology, it is often with Ignition, removing barriers, making things possible that otherwise wouldn't be.

Kristine: Great, thank you so much. Now that we've talked about how you got started on your path, let's talk about some of the challenges you faced. What are some obstacles you encountered in getting to where you are now, and what is your advice to other women who are considering or starting a similar path? Let's go ahead and start with Shay.

Shay: Sure. I think personally for me, as I'm kind of really getting going with my career now, I've been with Inductive Automation about three years now, I think the biggest thing for me initially was accepting the challenge. So, math and science were not my typical strong suits, actually, I really excelled at English and History, as you can imagine being a writer, being someone that was a bit more creative. And so, it did take a lot of being able to get outside of my comfort zone to do some research, to tap into resources, to network and get the assistance I needed to be able to move forward with what I wanted to accomplish. And so I think for me, the biggest takeaway is, don't be afraid to ask for help, there are a lot of people that are very passionate about what they're doing and want to be able to help you along in your journey. If you reach out, if you're open, if you're ready to learn, if you're ready to put in the work.

Kristine: Communication is key, that's for sure. Thank you, Shay. Stephanie, what obstacles have you faced? 

Stephanie: Well, I mean, I probably had similar experiences to everybody on this panel where I've walked into a conference room and it's a room full of men, and you just don't feel like you fit in. But, I wanna relay experiences of a colleague that I have, Keren Sookne, she is the editor of Healthcare Packaging Magazine, but she used to be a process safety engineer in the oil and gas industry. And even if she was the senior person on a project, if she walked in with a male colleague, and even if he was younger and inexperienced, once the conversation started, all eyes went to the man. So, I think that that's probably typical in terms of career obstacles for women in this industry. Now, Keren left the industry not because she was an unhappy woman engineer, but because she was an unhappy engineer.

Stephanie: I think that Kathy talked about, she loved puzzles, she likes to build stuff, but I think that's what most engineers want to do when they get into this, but she was finding that a lot of her role was just maintaining things, there was no creativity, there was no flexibility. So, that's a problem. And in terms of another career obstacle, I think we still have a gender wage gap, where women make less than men, even though they have the same experience in education, and unfortunately that's a problem across the board. And we're making progress, but that's a tough one to overcome. But I think more than anything, if you want to... Maybe some advice for advancing your career is to make sure you do have a mentor or a role model and communication that we talked about, and ask for help like I think Shay said. So, those are all really critical to moving forward.

Kristine: Great perspective and advice. How about you, Kathy? Obstacles, advice.

Kathy: Yeah, so the biggest obstacle really has been the boys club. When I first started college as an undergrad, I was trying to decide between majoring in Math, Computer Science or Physics. And Computer Science and Physics basically made it very clear that the boys did not want women there and I was usually the only woman in the classroom, and that's kind of hard when you're 18 or 19. So, I majored in Math, a few detours along the road, I wound up working in the construction industry for a while. Definitely have to learn how to deal with a room full of men there, so I decided to go back to tech. But even along that path, there's been some employers that I've left, because it has been made very clear that women are only tolerated, they are not welcome. So, we still have a little ways to go on that, but it has definitely gotten better over the years.

Kristine: Great to hear. Okay, let's shift our focus a little bit. Looking at it from the employer's perspective, what advice do you have for companies about how to recruit more women in technology-oriented careers and also how to retain them? Stephanie, I know you've reported on this topic, so let's start with you this time.

Stephanie: Okay, so recruiting. Well, first of all, to set the stage, we have a major problem in manufacturing in the form of the skills gap and a workforce crisis moving forward. There's a new manufacturing talent study that was just released by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, and it says that we're on track to have about 2.1 million open manufacturing jobs by the year 2030. So, there's just not a strong pipeline of people, of individuals desiring to have a career in manufacturing, and there's not a breadth of training programs available. So, how do we fix that? We have to broaden our reach to attract more entry and middle skilled jobs, whether it's machinists or welders or maintenance technicians, there needs to be some more community outreach. I think we hear this all the time, organizations need to partner with community colleges and universities, but also just break down to elementary schools and donate some robotics equipment and get involved and get the kids interested and focus on that little girl who is interested in the robots and make sure that you're encouraging her. There's a lot of other initiatives underway from organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute that will act as a bridge to recruitment and focusing on recruiting military veterans and offering diversity and inclusion outreach efforts.

Stephanie: So, once you get people in the door, how do you keep them? I think you have to have a career path for them. I said before, have a mentor or a role model. Somebody said to me, if you're interviewing a woman for a job, make sure you have a woman manager in the room so that she sees that there is a career path. And that actually brings up another point. McKinsey did a study or has done study every single year on women in the workforce, and while we've seen an uptick of women in the C-Suite, we are having... The bigger problem is not the glass ceiling, it's fixing the broken rung, and that is that at the entry level, women get passed over for that first promotion to manager, and then therefore it derails their whole career path. So, to get gender parity, we need to really fix that broken rung. And one more thing, having a diversity equity inclusion program in place is not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, because studies have shown that a company with a diverse workforce performs better financially, so something to think about.

Kristine: Thanks, Stephanie, great perspective. And I would have to mention, as you kind of mentioned, different organizations, that Inductive does have a University Engagement Program, where we're working to get Ignition into the hands of students and professors all over the country and the world, so we're doing our best to align with those initiatives as well. Kathy, why don't we go to you next? 

Kathy: Yeah. So, obviously we do need to spend more time recruiting women into tech. I moonlight at the local university as a computer science professor and only about a third of my students are women, so we're not at parity there yet. But we have to focus on retention. Someone had mentioned that women do tend to leave tech earlier than the men do, and part of that is that we need to make allowances for increased flexibility. Women tend to have more child-caring responsibilities, more elder-care responsibilities. The good thing is when you give people that kind of flexibility, you're not just helping your women employees, you're helping all of your employees. If we allow in our recruitment for people taking non-traditional path to get to where you are at, maybe they didn't start out majoring in computer science or engineering, maybe they took other paths to get there, maybe they've had some gaps in their career because of other family responsibilities, that gives us a bigger candidate pool and we're less likely to eliminate really good candidates if we'd just broaden what we accept... think of as the requirements for a good candidate.

Kristine: Makes a lot of sense, and I know here at Inductive we're very lucky to have a lot of women in leadership positions and technology-oriented fields. So, we're lucky to be a part of a company like that. Loe, I know you've had a lot of experience moving up the ranks in your career, can you give us your perspective? 

Loe: Yeah, I think that it's really important that we're intentional here. I don't think any of us are done any favors as women to be hired purely because we're a woman. I don't wanna live under the banner of being a diversity hire, and I hear that from a lot of other women as well. So, it's really about creating a diverse slate so that hiring managers are looking at a wide variety of people and then choosing the best candidate, and if you do that over and over again, naturally the diversity of your organization will sort itself out. So, how do you create those diverse slates? We're doing a number of things that I think have been really helpful, we're engaging with female-centered engineering groups like the Society of Women Engineers, that's heavily focused on connecting young engineers with jobs, and we're also even looking at the way that we write job descriptions. We all have these in-built biases that come out in our writing and we don't even realize it, and those can impact when people are looking at a job, whether or not they want to apply. So, we use online machine learning and AI systems to identify those biases in our job descriptions and help us change our word choices that they're appealing not just to women, but to a wider variety of candidates. And then, just like everyone else said, once you get those people in, you wanna take really good care of them, and right now, automation engineers are in hot demand.

Loe: It's not just women, it's all of them. So the things that we're doing, like Kathy said, they benefit everyone. You wanna make sure that people have really clear visibility to what options are available to them as they grow their careers, and that you're giving them those development opportunities to not just get better at what they're doing today, but to prepare themselves for their goals in the future.

Kristine: Thanks, Loe. That's pretty amazing to hear about the resume search and all of that, bringing the technology to everywhere. Love it. So Shay, how about you? 

Shay: Yeah, I really liked what Kathy mentioned regarding the non-traditional path piece, specifically because I actually started out in sales at Inductive Automation while I was finishing my degree. I shared that I ultimately wanted to be a part of the Sales Engineering team, and I was willing to work really hard to get there, but I wanted to get on board. And I bought into that. And so I started out in sales. And I think I've done pretty well for myself. I was then transitioned into an application engineering role and then promoted to a sales engineer last year. So I think I am a good poster child for showing that you can take this non-traditional experience and apply it again with that work, and that appropriate training. And to the retention piece, which is I think really interesting to me, I really think that having clear pathways in terms of being able to grow within your organization, as well as having support from your direct management is really huge.

Shay: So personally, for me, my manager here, Kent Melville, he's the Sales Engineering Manager... He meets with everyone on the team, both individually and in groups periodically to check in on us in terms of, are we getting all the tools that we need to get our job done? Do we need anything further from him? Are we meeting our goals personally within the company? And if not, is there anything that he would... Or we would like him to do to help us meet those goals? 

Shay: And I think that's really huge. I know a lot of other people around my age that work in this field, and they don't get any really, the level of support that I'm getting, oftentimes at some really large companies that definitely have the resources. And so I think investing in your employees and making sure that they're happy with what's happening in their day-to-day and working with them to maybe move into something else or take on additional responsibilities or what have you, is a great way to retain folks and potentially even grow your organization.

Kristine: Thanks, Shay. I know we have all benefited from you moving up throughout the organization here at Inductive. And you have an amazing manager in Kent, so I can see you growing and growing into the future. Okay, now I'd like to ask you guys some questions about COVID-19. From your perspective, how has COVID-19 affected day-to-day working life and manufacturing? For example, there are reports that the number of women leaving the workforce has risen due to the pandemic. Have you noticed this in the industrial space as well? This time, Kathy, why don't we move over to you first.

Kathy: So my team is all men, so it hasn't... I haven't seen women leaving my team. But definitely there have been a lot of effect... Women generally have the majority of childcare responsibilities. The wage gap makes it more... makes more sense for a woman to leave her job to take care of kids. And childcare has just been non-existent for the last year and a half. You can't send kids to daycare when the daycare is closed.

Kathy: So yeah, definitely, some huge effects. The nice thing for us here at Inductive Automation, we were already doing some small experiments, in work from home before the pandemic, and so we were able to transition seamlessly to a work from home. And now as a company, we have become a remote-first company. So we're gonna have some nice long-term effects from this, and we've had very little impact and a lot of our customers actually have had to ramp up their manufacturing and automation efforts. But definitely, I know in a lot of other fields, there have been some huge effects on women.

Kristine: Absolutely. And we are lucky to be a remote-first company at this point. It makes it a little bit easier. Loe, I know it's not the same everywhere. So how about from your perspective? 

Loe: Well, I do have women on my team. I'm lucky enough to have some amazing women on my team and I was able to retain them through the pandemic, which I'm really happy about. I don't work directly in manufacturing, but since I work in the life sciences space, I absolutely see the way manufacturing is changing for us. And some of the changes around digitization that we were working on are now massively accelerated because of the demands that are being put on both us as manufacturers as well as the customers that we have that manufacture too. So I think, COVID-19 has changed a lot of the day-to-day working life in manufacturing. And for us, we experience that as a pull for new technologies and new digital solutions, which is really exciting for my team.

Kristine: Oh, definitely. And it's great to hear you were able to retain all of them throughout this whole experience too. Shay, going over to you next.

Shay: Sure, yeah. So I think my team, because we largely did a lot of GoToMeetings to meet with customers directly, we would travel some to go to conferences and that sort of thing. Transitioning to working fully from home really wasn't a big deal for our team. I do work with... there's another woman on my team. And she stayed, and I'm glad. I don't think we've really, as a company, seen at least a large exodus of women that I can think of. I know that it's definitely impacted other spaces, maybe more specifically, especially maybe more plant engineers and things of that nature. In general, I think the biggest takeaway I've seen from COVID-19 is just the ability to be very flexible and kind of jump into whatever needs to be done and pivot as necessary things. In terms of customer requirements and things that customers were looking to accomplish, did greatly change I'd say during COVID.

Shay: It's starting to shift back to what I saw pre-COVID. But during COVID there was a big push to be able to monitor resources remotely and take advantage of technologies of that nature. And so that's what for a long time, a lot of my calls were oriented around. A big push on security as well. But in terms of the day-to-day, I think that for the most part, things have stayed pretty much the same from my view.

Kristine: That's great to hear. Stephanie, I know you might have a little bit of a broader viewpoint on this topic, so let's go over to you next.

Stephanie: Yeah. And I apologize, the great thing about a live event is that — there's background noise ... there's a giant lawn mower in the background, sorry about that. So yes, the impact of COVID. So first of all, the pandemic erased about 1.4 million US manufacturing jobs according to Deloitte. And it's executives say it's about 36% harder to find talent now than it was a couple of years ago. And yes, the findings are that more women left the workforce as a result of the pandemic.

Stephanie: They were more likely to be let go or furloughed. And unfortunately, a lot of them are not coming back. This has really derailed their career and they're citing childcare issues and the lack of flexibility. So on the flip side, the COVID-19 experience taught us that we can be very productive in a flexible work environment. And as a result organizations are reevaluating this hybrid work environment.

Stephanie: I just spoke to a general manager at a manufacturing company yesterday, and he's putting out a survey to his workforce asking them how they wanna work. Now, of course, you can't accommodate everybody, but it's a good sign that people are willing to balance and change the way they work. I think companies, as a result of the pandemic, are really realizing that they need to be empathetic to individual needs. The other thing is they need to be mindful about who is in the workforce. The younger generation, a lot of times are not concerned about that higher salary. They want work-life balance. They are socially focused. They care about the earth and sustainability. So know who you're talking to when you're bringing folks back. So I guess the bottom line is, organizations really do need to rethink the way that they work.

Kristine: Definitely. That flexibility comes in handy when it comes to recruitment and retaining people as well. So back to the crisis. Have you learned any lessons from going through COVID-19 that could help you, your business or industry overall into the future? Loe, why don't we start with you this time.

Loe: Yeah, I feel like I know my team a lot better. I've met their pets. I've met their kids... All their kids, the interns. And I've learned from all of them as I've watched... So we've all been fighting our own battles in this larger war. And each person on my team had their own kind of unique flavor of getting through the crisis. And I've just been so impressed with their resilience. And I think the struggle going forward, we all came together and we all figured out how to work remotely... We solved all of these problems. The struggle going forward is maintaining that close-knit feeling when the crisis is gone. And that's something that I'm working with my team on now. How do we harness what I all... I know that they're all capable of.

Loe: And think about how to move past it because we've seen such a great capacity. Now we can't... The other thing that I've noticed is everybody is working way too hard. So when you remove that line between work and life, it becomes kind of a mental-health challenge. So I think while I wanna capture that enthusiasm and move that forward and harness that, I also want people to step away from their computer, to take time off and to really think about who they are as a person outside of work. So yeah, I feel like I've learned a ton about humanity and about what we're trying to do as a team, going through the crisis with my team.

Kristine: Well, your team has a great boss to lead the way. Alright, let's go to Shay.

Shay: Yeah. I love what Loe just said. I think that finding the balance can be a little difficult, especially if you're working on something that's exciting or feels very important. It can be time to log off and it can feel like, "Oh, just one more hour." Or maybe two more hours. Or, "Yeah, I'll start early tomorrow. I'm right here. I'm right next to my computer. So it's easy." And before you know it, you've been doing that for several months and it can start to run its course, definitely.

Shay: So I think that's a really valid point, that it's important to make sure that you're finding the boundary there. We have, I think, across the board, see folks be extremely productive and still get the important work done that needs to be done. But we need to be taking care of ourselves as well. And so I think I've definitely learned the value of being able to be flexible, but also I've found that boundaries are just as important, if not more important. And that's actually something that I personally am working on more. Keeping better track of, "Okay, if I already have worked quite a bit of extra hours, then yeah, on Friday, we're gonna log off after eight hours and we're gonna go to the gym or take a walk or something." Rather than just adding that, a couple more hours because it's very easy to do. So yeah, for me, I think realizing that boundaries are important too, is one of my biggest takeaways.

Kristine: For sure. Let's move over to Stephanie. What lessons have you learned during the crisis? 

Stephanie: Well, I wanna echo what Shay just said. You have to have boundaries. When you're working at home, everything just becomes... Gets merged together and you're checking email at 2:00 AM in the morning. So you need to learn how to turn off your phone. And that's actually something that's hard to do, but I'm trying to. Especially when you go to bed. Turn off your phone. It's usually sitting right there on the nightstand. You gotta turn it off. And I'm learning how to make sure that I'm not looking at my work email until the next day.

Stephanie: But I'm just reflecting on an interview I had with Jan Tharp, who's the CEO of Bumble Bee Seafoods. And she was talking about leading through crisis. And it was in... And she had to lead through a pandemic, but she stepped into the role after there was a major corporate crisis. There was a little bit of a shake-up at the company. And I think the most important thing is you have to be transparent. Management has to be transparent with their employees and they have to keep open lines of communication. And they have to acknowledge... Yes, we have a problem.

Stephanie: And here are the things that we can do to fix it. And mental health is a huge issue these days. So I think making sure that human resources departments are involved in understanding that there might need... There needs to be new programs maybe in place. So I think the bottom line though is you've gotta have transparency at the executive level, and you have to communicate with your team.

Stephanie: Great points, definitely. Kathy, how about you? 

Kathy: I'll echo the mental health and boundaries theme. My team has just been so amazing during the pandemic and so productive. And my biggest challenge with them always is reminding them... It's your brain. It's important, not being... Sitting in your chair looking at a computer... And to keep your brain healthy I want you all to take an hour off, go for a walk, take an afternoon off, take a day off, take a week off... The code will still be here when you get back. But I really want you rested and refreshed. And it is so easy to just say, "Oh, I'm at home anyway. I may as well be working.” But no, you need those mental breaks and it's just super important to just take them.

Kristine: Absolutely. I think we were all just joking about seeing a different set of four walls now that you're in the office, just for today, Kathy. So mixing it up a little bit, setting some boundaries. All of those are great... advice and perspectives. Okay, let's see here. So we've talked about how you've gotten to where you are today. So now let's talk about what you're doing now. What is something that you're working on now that you're excited about? Or what's the part of your job that you feel the most enthusiastic about? And why is it exciting or interesting to you? Okay, Shay, we're gonna go ahead and start with you this time.

Shay: Okay. Yeah, I've got several customers that are working on great projects that I'm getting to help out with and kind of look at along the way. And it's great to see the progression that I can't go into a ton of detail on. But a public project that I am really passionate about is the Ignition Exchange. So I got to be a part of the initial launch of the Ignition Exchange. And now the Sales Engineering team is undergoing an initiative, so that each team member is working on a new resource per month.

Shay: And if you're not familiar with the Ignition Exchange, that is our free online resource repository. It's filled with great resources from members of the Ignition community. There are things varying from visualization, sorts of templates to scripts, to tag import tools. There's a wide variety of resources to help you jump start the various things that you may be trying to build out in a project.

Shay: I also get to see sometimes some of the incoming resources and the resources that my team is working on, we demo them internally before they're posted. So it's nice to kind of get that first look. But it's been a really exciting project. I love being on a call and being able to say, "That exists and it's here and you can download it and repurpose it." That's extremely valuable to our customers.

Kristine: Great, Shay. I know that's a huge project. So it's good to hear it's moving along. Okay, next up, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Okay, I just wanna unmute myself. So we have the packaging and processing Women's Leadership Network. And I am... The whole mission of the network is to recruit, retain and advance women's careers in our industry. And I'm very involved in that network. We have an executive council driving it, as well as thousands of members. And one of the big things that we do every year is we have a networking breakfast at the Pack Expo show. And we'll bring in inspirational keynoters... Like we had a year or two ago, Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to go to space.

Stephanie: And then we'll also talk about real issues. So right now, I'm in the process of setting up a panel discussion for our breakfast in September in Las Vegas. And we're gonna address many of the issues that we're talking about here today. How automation is transforming the workplace. How do we attract more women into this industry? How do we embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts? So I am a passionate proponent of our Women's Leadership Network. And I just feel like I'm doing my own little slice to help educate and open the door to more women who need support in their careers.

Kristine: That is so important, and it's great to hear that you're working on that project. Those women are lucky to have you, and it sounds like a great event coming up in September. So, Kathy, what are you excited about these days? 

Kathy: Well, here at Inductive Automation, we're looking at how do we grow the company, we're gonna be needing to hire a lot of new people. By the way, if you're interested in tech and you wanna work here, let me know. So the plans for how do we make this a smooth transition to a much bigger workforce, are pretty exciting. And as I mentioned earlier, I do moonlight as a college instructor, and getting to work with those young people, I generally work with juniors and seniors in Computer Science, and introducing them to fields that they don't know a lot about, my particular areas are databases and machine learning, and just letting them know all of the possibilities about that and opening their eyes to new things is just a tremendous kick.

Kristine: It sounds like fun, and I know that our HR department appreciates your moonlighting experiences, as far as recruitment goes too. Alright, Loe, let's finish up with you on this one.

Loe: Yeah, so earlier this year, I added some new people to my team and now we have software, like true, pure software engineers on the team, as well as some modelers who can do cool things like CFD and finite element analysis. And I'm so excited about the way that we're gonna incorporate those skill sets into our overall solution. That's kind of what my team does, they take automation and they use that as a foundation and build everything else on top and around it, and I think those new skill sets are gonna be so complementary, and I can't wait to see what new solutions we're gonna build. And since Kathy used this as recruiting, I'm gonna duel Kathy for some new automation viewing talent. I have two open positions for automation engineers, we'd really love to build at least one of those with someone who has the Ignition background. So yeah, hit me up. I would love to hire some fresh new talents on the back of this.

Kristine: Love it. Hopefully, we'll get you some interests here, Loe. Alright, thanks, ladies. Now, let's look ahead at where technology is heading or seems to be heading. Based on current or emerging trends, how do you think your job or company or manufacturing in general will be different in 10 years? Stephanie, why don't we start with you this time.

Stephanie: So organizations are going through a digital transformation, and as a result, there's gonna be very different roles in the future, again, that the Deloitte study, they have come up with these different personas and different titles for what jobs will be in the future, and it's things like digital twin engineer and predictive supply network analyst and drone data coordinator, or robot teaming coordinator, and they're really interesting jobs. It's not the normal pick and place stuff that you're thinking about, on the plant floor. So that's the good news. But we still have to be successfully recruiting these folks into the new career. And I think, as an industry, while we're so focused on the technology and the digital transformation of the organization, we really need to be focusing on the workforce, and training them and re-skilling them to take advantage of the technology and feel comfortable and empowered and not abandoned. And lastly, we're always hearing that automation is gonna take our jobs, and I do not believe that.

Stephanie: I really think it's gonna complement our jobs and it's just gonna allow us to have better jobs. And I think, as individuals, we've been talking about organizations changing, I think individuals, we need to be willing to change and learn new skills, and that will take us into the next 10 years.

Kristine: Change is hard, but it's something that we all have to continue to do, and I'm glad you mentioned that 'cause it's important in this industry, to be flexible, which is the theme we have going on here today. So Kathy, how about you? How do you think things are gonna be different? 

Kathy: I think, for manufacturing in general, what we're gonna see is a fallout from the Internet of Things, and that is the firehose of data that all these connected devices are generating, and we're gonna need people to deal with that firehose of data. Artificial intelligence gets all the buzz, but I think really what it's gonna come down to is, data scientists and data analytics, people who can wrangle the storage of that data, wrangle cleaning up that data and wrangle the analysis of that data. And that's gonna become more and more important to all kinds of manufacturing operations, including very small ones.

Kristine: Absolutely. Thank you. Loe, over to you.

Loe: Yeah, I think that this is exactly what my team is working on. As Stephanie said, we're gonna have all of these different skill sets that are required to do manufacturing of the future, and I don't know how reasonable it is to ask every individual manufacturing plant to keep all those skill sets on staff. And so as someone who is involved in the design of equipment and then the design of the tools that go into the manufacturing space, I think that puts a burden on us to figure out how to democratize these technologies. As things get more complex, you don't have to be a programmer to run your iPhone, but for a long time, you had to be an automation engineer to program a skid. So we need to start democratizing the manufacturing technologies, to help bridge that skills gap, help people move into these new roles of the future, and make sure that automation isn't taking jobs, automation is making jobs easier, so that people can not do repetitive work, but move into more intellectually and physically fulfilling work.

Kristine: Definitely. Kind of bringing it back to what Stephanie was saying earlier, about training up the workforce for what's coming.

Loe: Absolutely.

Kristine: Okay, Shay. Why don't you bring it home with this one? 

Shay: Sure. I think building off of what Loe mentioned, I think that, especially in this space, as we start to bring in newer, younger engineers that are going to inevitably bring their kind of philosophy with them, and in some way, rub off and shape the industry. I think we're going to have to see things open up a bit more, and that's sharing information, that's softwares themselves, devices themselves. It's been really exciting to be a part of the Inductive Automation team and work with organizations like Cirrus Link that have the Sparkplug B spec and work to keep information open and have these working groups where varieties of engineers and folks with different interests can come together and influence how something is built out or how it progresses, and I guess my hope is that across the board, this industry starts to open up more and more. I'm more commonly, I'm working with customers that have previously had very proprietary systems, very locked-down systems, and it's complicated for everyone, it takes time to find the people that know why something was programmed a certain way or what their end goal was going to be when someone leaves in the middle of a project.

Shay: Just the more that we can facilitate more open software, open technologies and transference of knowledge, I think the better off our industry and the job market, and all of us at large are going to be.

Kristine: Definitely. You're kind of back going through all of the pillars of our company there, Shay, so keeping that openness, whether it’s through the organization or through our technology platform, definitely important. Okay, so speaking of the future, it's been said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. What ways do you hope to help the industrial space evolve or improve? Also, how would you personally like to shape the future of the industry in terms of technology, culture or thought leadership? Kathy, why don't we start with you this time? 

Kathy: Well, of course, working at Inductive Automation is a great place to evolve and influence the future of automation, we're working on a lot of exciting things for... Already, we're starting to think about Ignition 8.2 and 8.3. And then of course, in my moonlighting, getting to influence the young people who are coming up, getting to think about software, specifically the technology in general, as not being about things, but being about people, and in the end there are users of everything we invent, so whether that's users on the platform or the people who are receiving the products that are made in the plant, it all comes down to people and how does your work affect people and getting the students to realize that is really rewarding.

Kristine: That's pretty amazing. Thank you, Kathy. Alright, Loe.

Loe: Yeah, so we've talked a little bit about this, the stuff that we're working on, and that's definitely what we wanna improve in a concrete sense, but to get there, I think... You know what Kathy was saying, we have to bring people together and we have to have... Bring people forward, and that's what I really wanna contribute to, bringing people who maybe don't know that they have something that they can contribute to this... It's not just automation engineers, it's not just software engineers that have something to say in the future of digitization, it's really all of us and those skill sets all contributing to the common goal is what I'm really passionate about.

Kristine: Great point. Thanks, Loe. Shay, over to you.

Shay: You know, I think I am still figuring that out a little bit, and I'm excited to see where I end up with that, but I do hope to continue to share my story and having a pretty non-traditional background, one thing that I actually did in my past life was I worked for a vocational college and I was a career counselor, and a lot of the folks that I worked with were military veterans or had a past life themselves, so they had left the workforce to raise a family or had health issues or what have you. And they got to a point where they were ready to re-enter the workforce and they needed to sort of re-invent themselves, but across the board, what I found in all of these people was that although oftentimes they had done nothing on paper that was specifically related to the career they were going to school for and hoping to join, they had unique viewpoints or experiences that made them very valuable to the field that they were going into.

Shay: And so I think that that applies across the board to any industry that we're talking about, but especially in an industry like ours, automation that affects so many things in the world, it is so important to have a wide variety of viewpoints of experiences coming together to be able to build out this technology, to build out these environments and teams. And I think in the end, having more diversity, whether it's not necessarily gender-based, but even just background-based and where people have come from and the sorts of experiences they've had, that can affect in the... into how successful we are with opening up this space, with making progress overall.

Kristine: Beautifully put, Shay. Thank you. Stephanie.

Stephanie: So I am obviously not going to invent the next greatest industrial technology, I'm gonna leave that up to Loe and Kathy and Shay to do, I am a storyteller. So I hope to continue to tell the stories about how automation is changing manufacturing, but as we all just said too, there's a human element to all of this, so I wanna tell the story about the humans that are involved, but I also feel passionate about my role movement forward is to help with the re-branding of manufacturing because the image for the public is just as I mentioned earlier in the conversation, they still think it's a dark and dull and dirty and dangerous place, and it's not, so I'm gonna continue to tell stories, and because we have incredible stories in the community, especially in the Ignition community.

Kristine: Well, we are very grateful for your storytelling and thankful that you are gonna be the voice and yeah to change the divide around manufacturing going forward. Okay, well, I've been asking all of the questions so far, so I'd like our audience to have a chance to ask their questions, so let's see here in the chat, but it looks like we have one from Andrea, she says, "In an industry where there are very few women leaders, and specifically for me, a small company where there are none, how do you recommend women break the glass ceiling in manufacturing, and what is your advice for early career women, engineers interested in leadership?" Anybody wanna take that one first? 

Loe: I can take that one. So I always say that leadership is really about holding two ideas in your hands, you have to care about the company and its success, and you have to care about people and their success, and you have to do both equally even when they're in conflict, and so I think that one of the things that people can do if they have these aspirations for leadership, I think many people who have aspirations for leadership already care about people, that's why they wanna do it. You have to learn about what matters to the company, you have to understand how what you're doing fits into what the company is trying to accomplish, so that you can do that balance correctly, and as we're starting out earlier in our careers, we don't have direct visibility to what matters to the company, we only have direct visibility to individual projects or maybe some small technology.

Loe: And to get that visibility, it's really about identifying leaders that you resonate with, whether they're men or women who you like the way that they're approaching things, you think they have an interesting viewpoint and making a concerted effort to get to know them, even just casual conversations, you'll learn so much about what matters to them and to the company and in the way that they're doing that balance.

Stephanie: I talk to a lot of women leaders and the consensus that I get a lot of times is that they don't come to the table with saying... With the idea of I'm a woman in this industry, it's just more of, I am an equal and I am going to do my job just as well as every single man at this table, but more importantly, the way that they rose through the ranks is that they learned every single part of their, the organization, of course, you can't do that in a large company, but some of these smaller companies, like learning operations, and there's a CEO that we're gonna be profiling soon in OEM Magazine, and she started at this company, I think, like more of an operations person, but she went out on the factory floor and she learned how to make the machine, and she learned the ins and outs of the organization, and she got a mentor who was a male mentor, and she just rose through the ranks just knowing that, because she knew everything about the organization and she said yes to a lot of things. When somebody said, "Do you wanna take this project?" She said, “Yes.”

Stephanie: So I think it's just more about understanding the organization, like Loe said, and being willing to take on tasks that you're being... You're not that comfortable with.

Kathy: I think the other thing that's important is finding the right people to surround yourself with, find people that believe in you and will help you shatter that glass ceiling, because trying to shatter the glass ceiling on your own is really, really tough, but if you can find either early career mentors or even later in your career, people who are at your level or above you, who see you as a human being, rather than a woman, is really gonna help with that, and sometimes you need to leave an organization if you're not finding the right people there.

Kristine: Mentorship is so important, and when you can find a good one, you hold on and learn as much as you can. Sponge it all up. Alright, so here's another question for you from Myra, she asks that “It looks like women are leaving profession because of the old boys' club culture, which we touched on a little bit earlier, have any of you had to deal with this personally?” 

Kathy: Yeah, well, I can start on that. As I said, I changed my major in college because of that culture, and I stayed away from tech for a couple of decades because of it. So yeah, so I've definitely had to deal with that. And the funny thing is, when I came back to tech, I realized that there was were still a lot of that. Tech is for guys, and a lot of that bragging and chest pumping-type thing, and I realized that the people who were doing that the worst were the people who actually knew the least about tech. It was kind of a way to cover for the fact that they were not all that. So my advice actually would be to kind of ignore them because a lot of the times they just don't know anything.

Kristine: Great play. Any other input, ladies? 

Loe: Yeah, so I grew up as a tomboy, so I have to admit, I wasn't at all weirded out by being surrounded by men or being in classes where I was the only woman, almost to the point where it didn't even occur to me as strange. So the first time I faced something that was really directed at me as a woman, it was really surprising to me. I had a boss tell me that he didn't know they let women be engineers, and I didn't even know how to respond to him, and I guess my advice would be, if you're facing that old boys' club, to ask yourself: Is this the right challenge for you? Is this the right company for you? Because I think in this day and age, if you're in that situation, you're probably not at a company that's gonna be successful long-term, you're probably not in a team where you can be successful and they can be successful, that is such an antiquated way of looking at things. And I have from experience, worked at so many companies where it's not even an issue, I work at a company now where it's not even an issue, and if you're facing that, I hate to tell people to leave to go find something new because it's not your problem to solve, so it shouldn't impact your career, but you can unlock your potential in so many more ways somewhere else, if that's the way that your current job is.

Kristine: Alright, in the interest of time, let's go ahead and move on, but thank you for those thoughtful answers, ladies, and for the great questions too from Andrea and Myra. Alright, so before we sign off, I want to invite you all to join us at our annual Ignition Community Conference. This year, it's totally virtual, totally free and happening on September 21st and 22nd. We'll also have a keynote address, developer panel, Build-a-Thon competition, lots of community sessions and great panel discussions like this one. Additionally, we're evolving the virtual conference experience by upgrading to a more interactive video chat platform, like I said, attendance is free so register today at the link shown on your screen. Also, you can catch our next webinar on July 29th, which is all about DevOps. To stay connected, follow us on social media and subscribe to our weekly news feed and podcast. Thanks for watching, everyone, and have a great day.

Posted on June 29, 2021