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.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."