"Seeking out those I admire has resulted in the best mentoring relationships," said Arconic's Kristy Higginbotham, Tennessee Operations Cold Rolling Area Manager, at this month's "STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Forward: Knoxville" panel discussion hosted by Arconic Foundation and The Manufacturing Institute.
Nearly 40 professionals representing eight local manufacturing companies gathered at the Park Pavilion in Knoxville recently for a regional networking event targeting women in manufacturing. Part of the Manufacturing Institute's larger STEP Ahead initiative, STEP Forward provides women in the industry with an opportunity to hear from other leaders, connect with their peers and learn best practices.
Kristy was part of a three-woman panel who discussed personal journeys into manufacturing. Joining Higginbotham on the panel were Shannan Billings, Senior Director Global Sourcing at Shaw Industries Inc., and Jan Shumate, Director Worldwide Engineering & Construction Services and Solutions at Eastman Chemical Company.
The panel discussed the importance of mentorship and building a professional network and examined the effects both have played in their ability to problem solve and collaborate. Kristy noted that she has been fortunate enough to have had multiple mentors in both her personal and professional life.
Panel moderator AJ Jorgenson, Vice President of Strategic Engagement at The Manufacturing Institute, asked about challenges the women face as female leaders in a male-dominated industry.
"Maybe one time out of 100, I'll look around and realize that I'm the only female in the room, but the rest of the time, I don't see it as men or women. We're all people who have come to work to do a job," Kristy said. "I may have a different leadership style than my male counterparts, but Arconic values that diversity of thought."
Kristy continued that because diversity is valued at Arconic, she was empowered to build an understanding with her colleagues which reinforced, personally, that every day she adds value and makes a difference.
"We win together, and we lose together," she said. "If we all keep focused, we'll get there together."
A.J. asked each panelist what career advice they would give to young professionals. Kristy said to trust your mentors and sponsors.
"Don't be afraid of a lateral move," she said. "Also, if a sponsor suggests a job opportunity, they are doing it purposefully because they think you would be a good asset. Each time I've done something I may have initially been intimidated by, it's turned out to be a great opportunity allowing me to rise to a challenge."
Kristy added that it's important to know what you're aiming for and to be transparent with your leadership so you and they know what you're working toward.