11, April 2024

Making it Happen in a Man’s World

Making it Happen in a Man’s World

By: Brenda Martin


With a career of more than 40 years in the manufacturing industry, I can look back now and see that I was greatly influenced by my father, who worked for an engineering firm. He shared his vast mechanical know-how with me. The two of us worked on many projects together, including rebuilding my car’s engine – an experience that wasn’t common among my peers at the time.

Deep manufacturing roots

During my teen years, I worked for Vermeer Corporation, a global manufacturer of industrial and agricultural machines. I also watched the production lines at the Rolscreen site of the Pella Corporation. So, my manufacturing roots reach back far into my youth.

After graduating from Truman State University with a biology and environmental science degree, I began my career in manufacturing with Carnation Company, which Nestle later acquired. We produced canned pet food that required a complex process in a niche market. I am proud of the contributions I made to help the company become a global innovator of pet care products. 

I knew early on in my manufacturing career that I had found what I was looking for. I love taking raw materials and ideas, applying science, processes, and technical innovation, and turning it all into a finished product that the world wants and needs.

Challenged to be better than my male peers

When I began my career, the prevailing attitude and reality were that women didn’t work outside the home – not in manufacturing, and certainly not in leadership positions in industry. I was lucky to find an open-minded, family-owned company that gave me an equal opportunity to compete for employment and promotions based on skill and merit.

I jumped at the chance to work for Carnation Company and took advantage of every training and skill-building experience I could. It wasn’t easy. I spent years on the second and third shifts.

Women were often held to a higher standard than men. And there were people who had to be convinced that I belonged. But I accepted this challenge and focused on outperforming others. I worked extremely hard to learn every aspect of our business, and I won credibility based on the results.

My unique perspective was new to the male-dominated meetings at Carnation. However, my co-workers soon recognized that I was a valuable team member. Reflecting on my past, I was often the only woman on the committee, board, or leadership team. Even today, I know that I represent myself and all women who want to succeed in manufacturing.

Extending my career into manufacturing extension

I’ve now worked with the Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS, the Iowa MEP Center) at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, for more than 20 years. As the Workforce Programs Director with CIRAS, I enjoy applying my industry experience to helping CIRAS and its manufacturing clients. 

Each business that CIRAS interacts with has a unique situation and a unique challenge. My personal challenge is to understand their needs and draw on my expertise and experience to help them find the right resources at the right time. I get excited seeing clients succeed, which motivates me to give my best.

How do you go far in manufacturing?

My advice for women interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing is to answer the question “What is it I want?” Then make it happen! Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know.

People who already work in the industry can share their paths and give ideas. Ask them! See it, try it out. There are various ways to learn about manufacturing in clubs and school activities. Manufacturing Day events are held for weeks each October in Iowa and other states. Look for these events, which often include plant visits.

Have a curious and open mind about what is happening in manufacturing. Create a vision of what the industry’s future could become with you involved. Manufacturers are rapidly adapting to technology and the global economy, which means they offer great opportunities for employees with many different skill sets who can support their growth.

Blog originally appeared here

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