Manufacturing CEO Discusses Women In Business Leadership

othermachinecoIn the competitive world of high-technology, engineering and manufacturing jobs, women are still working to close the gap between themselves and their male counterparts in salary, percentage of women in those industries and top leadership spots.

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “In 2014, 10 percent of women in professional and related occupations were employed in the relatively high-paying computer and engineering fields, compared with 44 percent of men.”  While many do better than the woman’s average salary that is, per labor statistics, only 80 cents per a man’s dollar in earning power, women are still working to overcome a cultural mindset that manufacturing technology is a man’s world.

Some women-led tech companies are surging forward with a pure drive for innovation and a determination that women can lead the way in technology.  They are changing the culture in places like Silicon Valley, one accomplishment at a time.

One example of this is Berkeley, California-based Other Machine Co., led by Chief Executive Officer Danielle Applestone.  She directs a team that creates software and hardware for milling machinery that supports the larger manufacturing and retail industry.  The company’s featured product, called the Othermill, is a versatile machine that uses digital designs to create objects from various materials from wood to plastic or metal. TriplePundit talked with Applestone about her perspective on women in the technology business:

TriplePundit: Many companies have a high percentage of female employees, but they’re not necessarily empowering them like you are. How did you create a corporate culture known for strong innovation and leadership by women?

Danielle Applestone: Interestingly, I don’t think it has to do with particular efforts at encouraging women, but rather an attention paid to the careers of everyone on the team.

Startups have a unique position where people can raise their hand and take on levels of responsibility that might not normally be given to them in a larger company. We emphasize learning and are a culture where it is actually safe to be wrong. If people feel safe, they will take more risks, and then each person is growing at a pace that they might not have experienced before in a job.

If your company is half female and everyone is being challenged, then some of the leaders who emerge will also happen to be women, like at OMC.

3p: Does corporate culture in the larger technology world put women at a disadvantage, or is this an excuse for women who haven’t found a way to succeed?

DA: People are held back by so many factors, ones external to them and some in their head. I’ve never worked at a business besides Starbucks, academic research labs and Other Machine Co., so I don’t really know what it is like in the corporate world. However, I do know that things like inflexibility with child having, child care and equivalent compensation will hold women back. It’s often possible to find a way to ‘have it all,’ but it comes with great sacrifice unless your employer is more flexible than average.

3p: Were you ever told you couldn’t succeed in the technology and business world?

DA: I wasn’t. I feel like the luckiest woman in that I had extremely supportive bosses — all of whom were male. I also managed to find some powerful women mentors who taught me about my value.

3p: How does the act of inventing new products tie into women’s empowerment?

DA: If the world isn’t providing the future you want to see, you might just have to invent your way to that future. Innovation, invention and entrepreneurship speak to changing the world around you and opening your own doors. Many women struggle for opportunity, and when you can start something new, you are seizing your own destiny without having to ask for permission — something that by definition is empowering you.

3p: What are you proudest of when it comes to your company’s accomplishments?

DA: I feel proud that people are attracted to OMC by who we are as much as what we have built; not a lot of other companies are like that these days. We have been open about our success and failures, and we have increased access to a really powerful tool. Also, this team is incredibly brave and supportive of each other, regardless of background; and that also makes me proud.

Image courtesy of Other Machine Co. 

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Anne Brock

Anne Brock is a University of Missouri journalism alumna and television news producer. She blogs at FlourSackMama.com about simple living and greener approaches to life for everyday families. She also freelances as a social media consultant and content creator.

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