For over two decades, Marcia Brey has fully immersed herself within the factory walls of GE Appliances, arguably one of the world's most recognizable brands.
There, she's learned how to navigate the demands of a massive global business and the intricacies of serving as a leader in a male dominated environment. Now, with her two engineering Masters' degrees and countless hours of experience on the production floor and in the supply chain, Brey is serving as the company's first Lean Enterprise Leader.
“My job is to elevate this thinking — this laser-tight focus on the most efficient use of resources — across our entire enterprise. We want to pull departments and job functions together to solve problems quickly at less cost," Brey told SWAAY.
“It doesn't matter if you're in technology, sales, production, marketing or distribution; every associate has expertise in some aspect of our business, and every associate is part of the Lean Enterprise."
She explained that her team will essentially be the glue that binds these many different perspectives together, allowing the company to see more than any one individual or dataset could ever reveal. This position wasn't just handed to her, though. Throughout her tenure at GE, Brey has continuously proven an effective leader.
Effective Leadership Techniques
To be a fruitful leader in any field or environment, you must be able to engage with, motivate, and challenge individuals for the betterment of the group and company at large. Brey's leadership style is unique in that she takes a hands-on approach, remains humble in her authority, and is able to quickly relate to people with genuine compassion.
“It all starts with empathy," says Brey. “I think many leaders are quick to speak and slow to listen; my best advice is to get out and go see for yourself. Associates don't expect you to know everything, to have all the answers, but will respect you for taking the time to understand their roles and the concerns that come with those responsibilities."
Brey says that by working multiple job functions at GE — and having these various perspectives — helps her understand that it's not just about how you teach someone to solve a problem, but it's how you encourage someone to get to the source of the issue and address it from the user's perspective.
“Doing this requires a cross-functional approach, where associates from different areas of the business must come together and dig deeper to uncover the real issues. But it's this collaboration, this camaraderie, that catches on and starts to spread," she explains. “I think there's a social aspect to Lean that's often overlooked, but that associates respond strongly to, that can only come when employees feel genuinely engaged and enabled by leadership. It's not rocket science, but it takes a calculated approach and a commitment by management to model this ideal state in their words and deeds day in and day out."
One of Brey's favorite go-to leadership tactics is sketching and drawing sessions. “Collaboration sounds great, but if you just have a bunch of people sitting in a room waiting to share their opinion, then not a lot tends to happen," she says.
“With lean thinking, we have our teams get out the sketch pad and draw their ideas. Then we put the sketches on the wall and go through one by one asking, 'What do you see?'"
One picture might not show the entire problem, she explains, but when you see them collectively it creates a depth that you might not have even realized was there. For Brey, it's not just about talking and barking demands, it's about using a process that encourages employees to see beyond their own perspective.
Leading in a Male Dominated Industry
In regard to leading in a male dominated environment, Brey said it's nothing she's not used to, and something she doesn't obsess over.
“I'm an engineer by trade, so I have been in environments with a disproportionate ratio of men to women for most of my career, especially early on. The simple answer is that we need more representation of women in technical roles. For instance, the foundation of lean and what we're doing comes from a manufacturing and supply chain environment, which is very underrepresented by women leaders or really, women in general," she said. “Naturally, it can be intimidating to be the only gal in a group of guys, but hard work and bright ideas are universal, and there's nothing that breaks down barriers faster than succeeding on a project together."
“Naturally, it can be intimidating to be the only gal in a group of guys, but hard work and bright ideas are universal, and there's nothing that breaks down barriers faster than succeeding on a project together,"
She adds that it's important to have leaders at all levels, both at GE and in general, that accurately reflect the diversity of the company's consumers and employees. The more diverse the leadership culture, the wider the breadth of thinking.
And while the manufacturing space holds firm as “a man's world," it is a new generation of leaders — including leaders like Brey — that change the perception of women in commercial industries.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.