People 23 October 2017
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.
5 Min Read
You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.
The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.
“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.
Shaping Her Career
Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.
"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."
After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.
As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.
How Did Acker Become A Judge?
In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."
Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.
Acker's Time Away From Home
Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.
Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."
She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.
“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."
“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."
Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."
Overcoming Racial Barriers
As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.
At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.
Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker
The Power Of Self-awareness
“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."
Know Your Support System
“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."
Learn From Your Experiences
“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.
“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.
Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.
This article was originally published May 15, 2019.