Quality Isn’t Just For The Guys

By Amanda Earing, News Editor, Manufacturing.net The quality profession has long been male dominated. The American Society for Quality’s demographics show only 25 percent of its membership is female. The good news for women in the industry is that those numbers are slowly changing.

Aimee Siegler, a global compliance manager for Benchmark Electronics, is the founder of the American Society for Quality’s (ASQ) Women in Quality (WIQ) network which launched in September of 2007. Since then, the network has grown to nearly 600 members with positions in the quality industry ranging from sales managers to engineers to CEOs. The network is also the largest of 16 different networks in the ASQ that follow various topics in the industry.

The WIQ network is a membership of women and men who strive to create an environment in the quality profession that allows each woman the ability to achieve her fullest potential. WIQ provides the opportunity to network with other women in the quality profession and learn from each other.

“When we first formed the network, I expected to be reaching women who were just getting started in the quality industry, but when you look at our member list that includes directors, managers, CEOs and master black belts, it was a pleasant surprise,” says Siegler. “However, it also tells me we need to keep reaching out because we want to help newcomers.”

The quality profession has long been male dominated and ASQ’s demographics show only 25 percent are female members. The good news for women in the industry is those numbers are slowly changing.

“When you look at the statistics, girls are not taking math and science courses and are generally encouraged to go into non-technical fields, so when these young women do enter the quality profession, they are often entering a male-dominated field. As the ASQ becomes more actively involved in reaching out to female quality practitioners, we expect to see the female membership swing higher,” Siegler notes.

Quality in education
One way ASQ is helping to bridge this gender gap is by reaching more young adults in college and encouraging younger girls to become more involved in technical roles and to take more math and science courses.

By becoming more involved with college students, Siegler hopes to increase awareness of the kinds of careers available and what areas of the profession would be of interest to them.
“There are great opportunities for ASQ as an organization to reach out to recent graduates, and also to undergraduates and graduate students, helping them see the opportunities available in the industry and how we can help them reach their goals,” she says.

The WIQ is also partnering with an organization called The Leadership Institute that encourages more women to become leaders.

“In creating a relationship with this organization, we’re hoping that over time we’ll have women that are aspiring not only to be leaders, but leaders in quality.” says Siegler.

Another way in which the quality industry hopes to draw more women is by branching out into other industries that often have more women employees.

Female dominated industries such as education and healthcare, where quality practitioners have not normally been involved, are starting to see the importance of quality roles to help improve their processes for providing quality service.

“As we start to see those requirements for quality driven into areas that traditionally have more women than men, I think we’ll continue to see more women involved with quality. It is important to branch out into other occupations that tend to not be a target for quality and look at how we can learn from each other,” says Siegler.

Siegler notes a recent example; a master black belt from a manufacturing company was hired by a hospital to look at what kind of strategies from manufacturing could help the health care provider improve its processes.

In addition to branching out into new industries, there are also many different opportunities in quality-related occupations. Siegler rattles off a broad list of titles from the Women in Quality network membership that include:
  • Quality Managers
  • Vice Presidents of Quality
  • Vice President of Marketing
  • Black Belts
  • Supervisors
  • Project Managers
  • Directors
  • Quality Engineers
  • Software Validation Engineers
  • Teachers
  • General Managers
  • Regulatory Compliance Specialists
  • Sales Managers
  • Chief Operating Officers
  • Administrators
  • Senior Principals
  • Company Presidents
  • Analysts
“The titles really run across the board -- lots of technical positions, quality engineers, industrial engineers and Six Sigma black belts. What the list tells me, and what I’ve seen in my career, is that it’s not so much a problem of getting a job, but it’s occasionally dealing with people that don’t necessarily believe women are capable of doing technical jobs,” she says.

To help women overcome these types of gender-based challenges, ASQ’s Women in Quality Network offers a variety of resources including a newsletter for women to learn about current topics related to quality and live networking conferences.

“Live networking at conferences has been a great opportunity for women to get together and talk about things important to them in the field,” says Siegler.

The WIQ also recently launched an online discussion board, a way for members to communicate when live networking is not an option.

The forum provides a place to ask questions and share experiences with others who may have dealt with a similar situation, network, and share stories about gender-based issues in the workplace.

One of the more recent topics asked members, “What steps or quality methods do you recommend to enable a positive work-life balance?”

Benefits of networking 
For women looking to become more involved in quality, Siegler suggests creating a network for various reasons.

“I don’t know everything. If I need to know something, I can find it from a resource within ASQ or go to my network. Having the ASQ and other resources has been invaluable to me and over time I’ve been able to get even more information and expand opportunities,” she says.

Siegler also believes it is important to have a mentor and one of the network’s long term goals is to have a formal mentoring program.

“The important thing in a mentoring relationship is finding the right mentor for you and making sure that person has the technical skills and knowledge that you are looking for. You should feel comfortable enough with your mentor to ask honest direct questions that will help you learn. Having a mentor can be a very helpful tool in increasing your knowledge and your understanding of the company,” she says.

For more information on the American Society for Quality’s Women in Quality network, visit http://www.asq.org/communities/women-in-quality/index.html
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