Women in Leadership: “If She Can See It She Can Be It”

As a young girl, I didn’t have much in the way of female role models. It was basically my Mom and Wonder Woman. Both true superheros by all accounts. It’s thrilling to see the growth of female athletes, business women, politicians and other leadership positions. Being able to see women fill important and diverse roles in society will help today’s young women see these roles as “normal” and “obvious” whereas I may have seen them as “odd” or even “unattainable.” Their dreams and goals will be shaped by what they see as possible. So sharing the stories of women in leadership positions will in turn create more women leaders.

If you’re not familiar with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, please allow me to introduce you. Because it’s AWESOME. To dramatically sum up it’s mission, it’s goal is to bring about change in the media to reflect, well, reality, as well as promote equality, eliminate bias, etc. If you think for a minute about how much impact the media (tv shows, movies, etc.) has on the world-view of our children (not to mention ourselves as adults), the mission is pretty profound and impactful. The “If she can see it, she can be it” tagline comes from the Institute, who’s website is www.seejane.com (clever, right?)

One that note, I want to share this article excerpt with you from Industry Week, which focuses on three amazing women in leadership roles. I encourage you to read ALL of the profiles because they are impressive, but I share with you this one for the obvious reason that it is HVAC-related. It’s so important to celebrate the success of women in all industries but I think this is especially important in industries where women are critically underrepresented, like HVAC and construction in general. So read on! See it, be it and share it!

Women in Manufacturing: Profiles in Leadership

Liz Haggerty

Vice President and General Manager, Unitary Products, Johnson Controls

An HVAC job is not for everyone. Especially those who care about sterilized offices, predictable hours, or physical comfort. Or,have a sensitive disposition.

Liz Haggerty is not one of them.

“I recognized early on that to be in business,” Haggerty said during a recent interview with IndustryWeek, “you have to get your hands dirty, have a tough skin.”

An HVAC industry veteran with more than 25 years under her belt, she knows what it takes to succeed in a sector where women historically have had low representation.  The industry deals with heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning units in buildings and homes. While some of the jobs might involve carrying equipment such as ladders, checking clogged pipes and vents, or working atypical hours, there are great opportunities in engineering, product management and sales that women can take advantage of.

“It’s true this is a male-dominated industry, you have to recognize that’s the case,” Haggerty said. “From the outside, this can be a daunting industry. Women in this industry have to be assured of their capability. They should not be afraid to have a voice.”

Haggerty has lived by those words to achieve rare success.

Under her leadership, Johnson Controls has undergone a lean drive that has cut costs and improved product quality, achieving a 26% jump in efficiency and an impressive 79% decline in safety incidents at the Wichita, Kan., facility alone. The Wichita safety performance is also 84% better than the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) average for the HVAC industry.

At every step, Haggerty—a metallurgy engineer by training—proved herself.

Haggerty recalled a particular incident when she, in her early 20s, was dispatched to a Carrier plant in South Korea to resolve certain manufacturing issues. Before leaving for the assignment, she was warned that she may be challenged by the country’s culture where few women held leadership positions.

“I recognized I was going to be challenged, so I made sure I was well prepared for the meeting, understanding the product they were producing,” she said.

“In the meeting room, once the designers rolled out the engineering drawings, I provided some suggestions, showing I had the technical competency and could give sound feedback. That helped me overcome the initial resistance, and get past the gender bias.”

Haggerty acknowledged that men also have helped her professionally, initially as mentors and later as leaders who were vested in her career.

“I was very fortunate to have great mentors, leaders—mostly men—around me who were good about giving me a seat at the table, let me have a voice in meetings,” she said. “They were willing to help me with their time and knowledge when it came to engineering, manufacturing and distribution. So I recognize how important it is to find mentors within organizations.”

Haggerty also underscored how women could be a driving force in the industry.  For instance, employment of HVAC mechanics and installers is projected to grow 21% from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. Women could close the looming skills gap, if they have the right training.

Johnson Controls has several initiatives underway for women in STEM roles within the company and the industry. For example, it partners with several global manufacturing and engineering companies to support iRelaunch, an initiative of the Society of Women Engineers, to help women who have been out of the workforce two or more years and hold core skill sets in engineering, science and technology disciplines.

“I’d like young women to recognize that HVAC manufacturing is a great place if you are intellectually curious,” she said, “and want to learn how to do new things, gather new experiences and be successful.

“It is OK to be intellectual and interested about mechanical things.”