Kathy Miller and Shannon Karels didn’t set out to be trendsetters. But they’ve become prominent women leaders in manufacturing by changing the script in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Their journey inspired them to write a book, “Steel Toes and Stilettos: A True Story of Women Manufacturing Leaders and Lean Transformation Success,” which describes how they transformed a traditional manufacturing operation into a lean enterprise. It’s also the story of how they leaned on one another along the way.
How They Became Women Leaders in Manufacturing
Both women have formidable resumes.
Kathy Miller has excelled at many roles in the manufacturing industry, from operations worker in an automobile factory to senior operations executive. She was inducted into the Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame in 2021.
Shannon Karels got her start in supply chain management and progressed through several leadership roles. She now helps lead organizations toward a leaner, more productive future.
Together, they focus on continuous improvement for employees at all levels of the company, helping companies get better results. Besides lean transformation, they also do public speaking and offer personalized coaching, company-wide training and leadership development programs.
‘Steel Toes and Stilettos’: The Many Meanings of the Book Title
The book title isn’t just about how to succeed in a male-dominated industry, but also how women leaders in manufacturing are changing the business for the better.
“Steel Toes and Stilettos” is much more than a collection of inspirational stories designed to promote “girl power” in business. Miller and Karels dive deep into the comprehensive change they made possible. They also point to their contemporaries. The book introduces role models in other sectors to show how adept women are at managing diverse and complex roles.
The Power of Transformation
As Miller and Karels have been promoting their book, they’ve revealed more about their paths and their process. In interviews with Industry Week and IPPT, for example, the women reveal the difficulties and sexism they encountered in their initial years in the industry. But there was an upside: the need to work harder than their male counterparts pushed them to tap into a work ethic and many talents they didn’t know they possessed.
As they grew into industry leaders, they focused on inclusivity and recognized that diversity brings strength to an organization. Companies get better results when everyone from the plant floor to the C-suite is involved with making decisions about the future.
That belief is the foundation of the work Miller and Karels do with organizations they help. Lean transformation is about introducing changes across an organization to create more value for the customer. So it makes sense to start the process by making sure you’re using all available resources.
After all, skills don’t follow any gender or demographic line. Uncovering the positive characteristics each person brings to the organization benefits everyone. New ideas shake out weaknesses and make lean transformation possible.
Miller and Karels know it’s possible. They want to teach other women and organizations how to walk the same path — no matter why kind of shoes they wear for the journey.