STEP Awards Empower Women to Assume Leadership Roles in STEM

FLATE’s effort to promote excellence in manufacturing has strongly impacted the face of technician education
and training across Florida. The Center’s role in redefining engineering education in Florida has had a remarkable effect in outlining local workforce needs by building crosswalks between industry and education. One of its strategic objectives has also been to educate, recruit and train women and girls about high-tech manufacturing and in the same vein encourage them to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM fields.

In-step with this objective, this month we take a look at two women who have taken a leading role in defining women in STEM. Tina Featherstone and Beth Walters were recent recipients of the Manufacturing Institute’s, STEP Ahead, Women in Manufacturing Award. The Award recognizes women across the nation for their contributions and empowering leadership roles in manufacturing education and training.

What makes Walters and Featherstone stand out from the crowd is their commitment to promoting excellence in
manufacturing. Beth Walters, senior vice president of communications and investor relations at Jabil, a global manufacturing services company based in St. Petersburg, FL., started working at Jabil in 1992. Walters says she had no prior experience in manufacturing, but in the 23 years she’s been engaged in manufacturing, she has found fulfillment by ensuring “other women are recognized” and “have successful careers in manufacturing.” Featherstone shares a similar passion. She currently serves as a procurement system analyst at CONMED Corporation, a high-tech manufacturer  in Largo, FL, and one of FLATE's strategic industry partners for several years. Featherstone has been engaged in manufacturing for the last 21 years. In addition to what she does in her everyday job working to develop new products, Featherstone’s inspiration to remain engaged and excel in manufacturing also lies in her belief to be recognized as a “woman leader who is capable of doing anything.”

Walters and Featherstone are committed to be engaged in STEM and manufacturing, especially for more women to
be a part of the high-tech workforce. “Diversity makes team stronger” said Walters who stated her individual experience as a woman in manufacturing has been sprinkled with a rewarding and successful  career that at times were also confronted by challenges of breaking down barriers. Adding to that thought, Featherstone alluded to a common misperception of manufacturing as bare factory floors, when in reality she outlined manufacturing as a powerhouse for interesting opportunities and satisfying careers. Featherstone also pointed to women as “great problem solvers” and how this attribute can be applied in a manufacturing setting. “Math and Science are certainly not just for boys.” From working in a cosmetic company to create the best moisturizers, to cleaning up oil spills “the possibilities are endless” for women engineers and scientists in manufacturing, said Featherstone.

Since the award, both women have enjoyed top recognition at their respective organizations. At
CONMED, Featherstone’s award was recognized on a company-wide level. CONMED is also a big supporter of STEM programs, and has two management level representatives on FLATE’s industrial advisory committee to support FLATE’s STEM-based programs. The company will also be joining FLATE in hosting Manufacturing Day tours later this year, and participating in FLATE’s robotics camps by hosting industry tours. Walters has also received equal recognition at Jabil from the CEO, CFO, COO and President of Jabil, with special mentions in the company blog, social media profiles and media interviews. Following the Awards, Walters has also started Jabil Joules, a female networking resource group, and expanded the program on a global level within the company.

Looking ahead, Featherstone and Walters hope to pave the path for additional women to receive recognition and serve as STEP ambassadors in the coming years. Recounting her experience, Walters stated she “enjoyed getting to know and meet other women in manufacturing.” Both were also captivated by a “true sense of comradery” that Featherstone described representative of the lives of professional women “who strike a balance every day between work and family.

For more information on the STEP Ahead Awards for women in manufacturing visit the Manufacturing Institute website. To get additional tips and insight on engaging women in STEM read the FLATE Best Practice Guide on “Recruting and Retaining Girls inSTEM,” or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, or 813.259.6578. An audio recording of the most recent webinar on the same topic hosted by FLATE in partnership with MATEC will be available on a website. So be sure to check in at www.fl-ate.org.