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STEP Ahead with Jamie Slyder

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

Only thirty women worldwide were recognized as this year’s STEP Ahead Emerging Leaders, a prestigious award for young women in the field of manufacturing. Jamie Slyder of Toledo, Ohio, is one of the recipients of this highly selective honor, representing the future of manufacturing.

Jamie represents a minority in her field. Despite representing almost half of all workers, women make up less than a third of manufacturers. Motivated to close manufacturing’s gender gap, the Manufacturing Institute launched the STEP women’s initiative to recognize and support women in science, engineering, production, and technology careers.

“Women represent one of the largest pools of untapped talent for manufacturers... Moreover, research shows that gender diversity benefits a manufacturing firm by improving its ability to innovate and grow,” the STEP Ahead Prospectus states on the organization’s website.

The STEP Ahead award honors women who have excelled as leaders in the manufacturing industry and equips them with tools to continue to grow and to mentor the next generation of women in manufacturing.

Of the 130 women honored, thirty of those women are under thirty. These women, including Jamie, comprise the Emerging Leaders. In April, the honorees were hosted for a three-day conference that consisted of an awards gala and leadership training program in Washington, D.C.

Being in a conference surrounded by strong women who thrive as leaders in manufacturing is a far cry from where Jamie’s career started five years ago. She started at Materion Corporation as an intern, working in the maintenance department.

“I was the only female out of fifty, besides the secretary,” Jamie said.

Her department was unaccustomed to female personnel. There wasn't a women's bathroom in her building when she joined the staff. Due to a previous plumbing issue and its lack of use, the women's restroom had been converted into an office.

“I had to use a bathroom in the building next door- in winter and in rain.”

From there, Jamie worked her way up the ladder. In her next position, she worked in a building that employed an equal balance of women to men working on the floor, though at times she was the only woman in the office. Jamie states that it is a fair representation of women in the field.

At the University of Toledo, Jamie graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering with about 80 others, only five of whom were women. One classmate told her, “Women can’t do engineering.”

Despite the lack of representation in the field and despite the naysayers, Jamie found success. Jamie was a Strip Process Engineer at Materion Corporation when she was nominated for the STEP Ahead award.

Terrance Pisanelli, the Elmore Strip Mill Manager at Materion, nominated Jamie as an Emerging Leader last October. He went out of his way to recognize his employee's contributions in his submission to the Manufacturing Institute.

"Jamie is very valuable in representing Materion at different events, and serves as a model to women engineers," Terrance wrote.

Her success hasn’t stopped with her award, either. At the conference, the women were led through workshops on how to continue growing as leaders. Jamie was educated on ways to empower herself and her female employees through trainings on hiring practices, negotiation training, and team building.

After returning home from D.C., Jamie found herself immediately applying the lessons from the leadership training. A new position was made available at work, and she was encouraged to step into the new challenge. Initially, she was hesitant. She loved her current position and didn’t want to leave her team. In addition, after reading the job requirements, she felt less than 100 percent qualified. However, the women at the STEP Ahead program had covered how common this hesitancy was. In comparison to men, women are less likely to apply for jobs where they feel they are not fully qualified.

“Men are more risk takers; women are more self-critical,” Jamie said.

Jamie decided to take the risk. Shortly afterward, she began her new position as a Lean Manufacturing Engineer. Yet, Jamie’s application of her training didn’t stop there.

Jamie noted, “As women, we want the best for the women we work with.” Women are more likely to negotiate for others than for themselves. Jamie decided she would advocate for herself.

Upon taking on this new challenge, Jamie requested to be assigned a mentor and receive formal training. Jamie didn’t have the background she felt necessary for the position, so she sought to acquire what she needed to succeed.

Jamie was given all the support she requested. She even was able to select her mentor.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Jamie advised. “Ask for promotions, ask for salary reviews, ask for mentors.”

By practicing her own advice, Jamie has even acquired the raise she sought. She requested a salary review and successfully negotiated a salary increase.

“Be ready to give them the data and support your case,” Jamie recommended for women negotiating for a raise.

Despite her initial reluctance to leave her old position, Jamie is loving her new role. She has been learning as she goes, observing and listening before she speaks and acts, so her input is informed and useful. Currently, she is designing a schedule system for inventory to help reduce expenses for her company.

It is clear from the way she speaks about her company and her work that Jamie is where she belongs.

“I love manufacturing,” Jamie said. “I can see the physical good going to the customer.” She gets to work together with her team to develop better properties and specs on a tangible product. She loves getting to see the success of her team’s labor. “I get to high-five the guys at the end of the day.”

Jamie continually strives to continue to grow as a professional and a leader. She is enrolled in Bowling Green State University’s Professional MBA program, expecting to graduate in 2020. While she continues to pursue her formal education, Jamie also educates herself by meeting with mentors within her company. She is greatly inspired by her mentor Carole Trybus, Principal Engineer at Materion Corporation, who has a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering.

“She taught me to be a strong woman in the industry, to promote myself, and that it’s okay to have career goals and push for them. It doesn’t make you pushy,” Jamie said in praise of Carole.

Carole also offered Jamie one of the best pieces of advice she has received as a woman working in a male-dominated industry.

“It’s okay to cry, but not in front of people. Shut the door, and take a moment. Collect your thoughts and move on.”

Jamie is fortunate in having inspiring female role models who have supported her career. She credits her mom who raised her to also be a strong woman and to do anything she wants. “She encouraged me to pursue a male-dominated field and to be self-sufficient.”

If it wasn’t for her mother and her aunt, she may have never studied mechanical engineering. “In high school, I loved math. I took Calculus. I wanted to be a math teacher,” Jamie explained. Her mother was a teacher and knew it wasn’t the right path for her daughter. At a holiday dinner, her aunt discussed her field: mechanical engineering.

Jamie began to pursue the idea of engineering. Having grown up in Union City, Ohio, on a 40-acre farm, she had considered becoming an agricultural engineer. During her senior year of high school, she shadowed an agricultural engineer for the day. At least, she thought she did. The engineer turned out to be a mechanical engineer, who encouraged her to not limit herself to agricultural engineering. A mechanical engineer is versatile; she “does everything.”

She moved to Toledo to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. She found that she loved the area with its diversity of backgrounds and ideas. She loved it so much that she never left Toledo. However, she was less than excited with what she was learning as a student. She nearly quit and changed degrees out of fear that she would end up with a desk job, which wasn’t what Jamie envisioned for her future. Then, her first co-op renewed her excitement. She was able to experience what it could mean to be a mechanical engineer.

“I loved being on the floor, making finished goods,” Jamie said. She was working hands on, and it felt right. Now, she can’t help but want to get everyone into manufacturing. It’s work she loves, and she knows that not enough women know about the opportunities and satisfaction that comes from her work.

At the conference, there were schoolgirls in attendance who had won a writing competition about wanting to work in manufacturing. All of them had a parent in manufacturing. Jamie asserts that we need to talk to younger girls, to introduce them to career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math. There are many opportunities in STEM, and diversity is needed.

“Diversity is so important. It closes out new ideas when you don’t have diversity. Multiple viewpoints allow you more selection to choose the best answer,” Jamie explained.

It may be an uphill challenge when working in a field where you are a minority. You may find roadblocks and obstacles. You may even have to walk to a different building to find a woman’s restroom.

“Be humble,” Jamie advised. “If you work hard, good things will come to you.”

Jamie also encourages women to stand up for what they are worth. “If you aren’t appreciated, leave. There are plenty of jobs out there. Work where you will be appreciated.”

As a 2019 STEP Ahead Emerging Leader and the newly promoted Lean Manufacturing Engineer at Materion Corporation, Jamie Slyder is where she is appreciated and she is thriving.

Learn more about Jamie's accomplishment here on the Manufacturing Institute website.

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