Q & A with STEP Ahead Awardees from Jabil Circuit in St. Petersburg, FL

FLATE has been a big proponent for promoting #WomenInSTEM. Over the years the Center
has not only formulated curriculum and projects that are geared to encourage women to pursue STEM based educational pathways and careers, but has led several initiatives that have highlighted the pertinent role women have played as leaders in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. One of the efforts FLATE has continued to champion and support is the STEP Ahead Awards, a national effort spearheaded by the Manufacturing Institute, to recognize the prominent role women here in Florida and across the nation have played and continue to exert in American Manufacturing.

This month we highlight two of the nine women in Florida, who were among the 130 women nationally, honored as a STEP Ahead awardee by the Manufacturing Institute. Kristen Widunas, is the Site Operations Manager at Jabil Circuit, Inc. in St. Petersburg, FL. Toni Jones currently serves as the Senior Manager of Employee Engagement at Jabil Circuit, Inc. Through a quick Q & A session conducted by FLATE, we look at their journeys into manufacturing, get their personal insights on what the award means to them, and how they plan to continue to affect positive changes in Manufacturing, and continue to serve as role models for other women in STEM to emulate.

Can you tell me a little about yourself and your interest in manufacturing?
Toni Jones: I have been working in manufacturing since 1978, first building and

inspecting substrates under magnification; then moving to a military defense corporation as an electrical technician with both component and PCBA level assemblies. My career took off after joining Jabil in 1984 when electronics and processes were changing at the speed of light - all new and exciting - never had a dull moment in my 32 years here!

Kristen Widunas: I went to school for engineering and since I was young was always curious about how things went together and were made. I knew I wanted to do something with science and math in highschool so I pursued engineering. To top it off, I went down the path of Chemical Engineering which was predominantly male students. My grandfather worked in manufacturing after the war and so I also feel a special connection to manufacturing knowing it was something my grandfather did and loving seeing things come together to make a product. It is a career that offers so many avenues to pursue for advancement or trying different fields that you can stay engaged with the work.

What does the STEP Ahead Award mean to you?
Toni Jones: The STEP award to me has been a wonderful and very meaningful acknowledgment of all the things I have helped create and been part of, especially around the recognition of mentoring and sharing knowledge with the other women in our organization.

Kristen Widunas: It’s a great honor but also a great responsibility knowing that people have believed I have made a great impact in manufacturing for other women, but knowing it doesn’t stop there and that I need to continue to work towards helping other women achieve their career goals and aspirations and to keep more women coming into the industry.

Since the awards ceremony, what have you/your company done to recognize your STEP award?
Toni Jones: I have been featured in internal global communications, & local news articles. We are scheduling our annual women's meeting and will feature STEP as part of the agenda.

Kristen Widunas: There have been some interviews and some stories published on Jabil Joules site. I’ve shared the experience with my kids and friends promoting the things that STEP and the Manufacturing Institute have done.

Why do you think it is important for women to be engaged in STEM and manufacturing?
Toni Jones:
There are many, many different paths in manufacturing for women. Women bring great perspective and a style that "engages" employees. They can help move the needle in a big way when addressing one of the most significant challenges all companies are facing today - work life balance.

Kristen Widunas: Women bring a different perspective and have different ideas. They sometimes feel that they can’t do more because they have to juggle career, home, kids and so they don’t always pursue more. The more we promote work/life balance and help them see that they can take on challenging careers in manufacturing and be there for their families and be engaged with school activities and sports activities, the more they will try and take on more challenging roles and bring the strengths that women possess to advancing manufacturing. Whether it be through creativity, or helping foster better employee engagement, or different ideas – women have a different perspective that is valuable in manufacturing.

What are some strategies industry can employ to get more women engaged in Manufacturing and STEM?
Toni Jones:
I think it is critically important to engage girls in elementary grades on the possibilities - it isn't all turning wrenches and working with dirty machines! BUT... more importantly, I think a big miss is not educating our teachers on bias, conscious, unconscious - verbally and non-verbally!

Kristen Widunas: Continue to find ways to help women see what careers are available, help promote work/life balance, time sharing, and recognizing them for the diversity they bring to manufacturing. Getting more publicity out there for the youth is key as well. The engineering commercials for girls that came out a few years ago were great. STEM/STEAM programs in our schools is another great area that the industry can reach more females at an earlier age before they start deciding what they want to do when they grow up.

In terms of the awards ceremony itself, do you have any special recollection from the event?
Toni Jones: It was a wonderful event, very well done...most meaningful was the fact that our table consisted of the other women nominated from our company and the leaders who nominated them!

Kristen Widunas: I really enjoyed the whole event, meeting other women, hearing their stories, seeing how each of us contribute. It helps generate new ideas to take back to Jabil. I really enjoyed hearing the story from the women that created the tinker toys for girls, I could relate to a lot of what she had been through in school and her career.

Additional thoughts/comments
Toni Jones:
Looking back over my career, I am very happy that I have such a positive effect on so many people. If I'm honest...I never thought about it much, it's just my personality to brings folks along and I think my love for manufacturing comes through. I would encourage leaders to make mentoring and really "caring" about inclusiveness a formal program. I have been very fortunate to have honest, courageous leaders throughout my career that are a big part of my success.

Kristen Widunas: Talking about the Award with other women to get more awareness to the award and the purpose behind it has been a rewarding experience.

For more information and to learn about the 2016 STEP Ahead Honorees and Emerging Leaders visit the Manufacturing Institute’s Women in Manufacturing STEP Ahead program page. For FLATE’s STEM-based programs for women and girls contact Executive Director of FLATE, Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org. Stay tuned for follow-up stories on additional awardees in the next edition(s) of the FLATE Focus. 

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