Q&A: Caterpillar (CAT) Engineer Stacey DelVecchio Talks Women in Manufacturing

on February 05 2014 10:25 AM
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Stacey DelVecchio is a chemical engineer who worked for 25 years at Caterpillar and is President of the Society of Women Engineers Stacey DelVecchio

There has been much talk of late about the growing gender divide in American manufacturing.

“Amidst all the promising signs in U.S. manufacturing, one disparity continues to make headlines – the recent job gains in manufacturing have been largely among men,” reads a memo from the United States Congress

Between 2010 and 2013 the number of men employed in manufacturing has grown 7 percent while the figure for women has fallen by 0.3 percent. Though women account for nearly half of all non-farm payrolls they represent less than 30 percent of the manufacturing sector.

But Stacey DelVecchio is out to change that.

She’s worked at Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) for more than two decades; first as a chemical engineer and then in various management positions. Currently, DelVecchio handles the company’s global recruiting strategy – which she balances with her role as president of the Society of Women Engineers.

And she’s learned a thing or two since starting on the factory floor 25 years ago.

What was your first job at Caterpillar?

I came to Caterpillar and I spent several years as an engineer working on components that go into transmissions.

I found it fun because there were new parts and new processes, so I was in a group where we formulate our own compounds. So we would make this new plastic compound and my job was to figure out how we could make it into parts, so that you would have a consistent quality.

I liked it because I would be on the factory floor, making parts, testing them, and then I would come back to the office and I would analyze results and make changes in the materials.

If all my time had been in the office, I think it would have been boring. But when you’re in the shop you’re physically doing something, so it’s nice to have that think time – I really enjoyed the combination of both, that’s what made my job interesting.

What drew you to pursue managerial positions?

I think when I started getting into management it was that I really felt like I kind of found my niche. It was an area that I had more strength in – even if I were managing a team that was mostly men.  

Right now your official title is “Engineering Talent Pipeline Product Development & Global Technology.” What exactly does that mean?

The bulk of our product development engineers are in the U.S., Europe, China and India, so we have to make sure we have a worldwide strategy, to make sure we’re recruiting from the right place. We’re onboarding them but also making sure we have a long-term development plan. I’ve been at Caterpillar for 25 years, and you see that a lot in our employees. We want our employees to come and to stay.

It’s hard for companies to do that today. It’s what people used to do, but with the younger generation you see a lot of people move around different companies a lot to try different roles. We want to make sure people see that you can get all these experiences within one company – and for that we need a worldwide strategy.

I’ve been here so long and I’ve had so many different jobs.

How is it that you decided to work for Caterpillar in the first place?

I think it’s important to share that I followed my boyfriend. The reason I came to Caterpillar was because of him.

I used to think that girls like that weren’t very strong. There were friends I had in high school who followed their boyfriend to college and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s terrible. Be your own person!’

But I happened to be in a job that wasn’t a good fit for me and it was important at the time.

Of course I’m an engineer so I made a list of pros and cons. I took a time management class and we talked about where we wanted to be in five years.

It was definitely the right move at the right time. I had made the decision that it was important for us to be together – we’ve now been married for more than 23 years.

You can still be a strong woman and have a career.

Plus I ended up making more money when I moved to Caterpillar and it ended up a win on multiple levels. But in 25 years we’ve only had one meeting together – it’s a big company.

 

What’s the ratio of women you work with when you were just starting out compared to now?

Right now I’m in HR (human resources) and HR is dominated by women -- men are the minority.

But I was also hired into an area with chemical engineers, and in the graduating classes of chemical engineers there’s always more women, also biomedical, chemical and in some cases civil or industrial tend to have more women.

But if I look at the general engineering ranks, about 10 percent are women.

Why do you think this is?

We do have a problem. There are a lot of women that leave the workforce for a few reasons. Some do leave for family reasons or they choose to go into other professions where the environment is inclusive.

It’s not just that women are having babies and going home but they want to go to an area where they belong.

What is it about manufacturing jobs in particular that make them feel this way?

A lot of it is because it’s male-dominated. The number one thing we give women is some of the tools to understand that they do belong in that environment. We also do a lot of work with companies to say, OK, if you want that diverse team you have to make sure you have this inclusive environment.

So what does that entail, exactly?

It’s always the little things. For example the chit-chat that goes on before you have a meeting. If you’re in a group that’s mostly men, a lot of time that pre-meeting talk may be about sports. Now, there are tons of women who like sports, but there are lots that don’t, and I’m one of them.

For me personally, it helped that I ended up being more of an extrovert, and sometimes I can help steer the conversation.

They’re engineers so they like tech stuff, and I listen to a lot of NPR and there are all kinds of things on there that I can talk about. Vacations are also a gender-neutral topic.

What is something else you know now that you didn’t when you started?

Well, when I was younger and a minority – a women working with mostly men – I always thought that if people weren’t listening to me it was because I was a woman, but there was that age factor too.

Sometimes it wasn’t that I was young – I shouldn’t have assumed it was because of my gender.

What other advice can you offer to women just starting their careers, especially when they work with a lot of men?

Be firm, be decisive and don’t make excuses. And for goodness sakes don’t apologize! Women apologize entirely too much. You have to own your expertise.

Last year I spoke about being authentic. One of our favorite sayings it that ‘if we turn into men in high heels, we lose the value of diversity.’ We’re not out there to fix the women, we want women to be their authentic self.

You were elected president of the Society of Women Engineers last year. How has that been?

I am having fun. There’s a lot of interest out there as far as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and women in the workforce – genuine interest.

It used to be more of ‘oh this is the right thing to do’ and now I think as a leader or manager of a company it was hard to justify why you wanted to go that route.

But now we actually have research that shows how a diverse team will actually give you better business solutions. That becomes a much more critical thing of ,‘well,I want the best solution for my company.’

It’s really made a difference. It’s hard to dispute now.

It seems like you’ve been pretty busy – dividing time between your job at Caterpillar and the Society of Women Engineers, what’s a typical day like?

There is no typical day. For one thing, it’s the first time I’ve worked for a woman now that I’m in HR and she’s really good with flexibility.

She allows me to go to a small workout class in the morning at around 6:30 – it’s early but the flexibility part is that she lets me come into work a little later.

With this job at Caterpillar, I spend a lot of time being an advocate within Caterpillar and we make sure we get a lot of thing embedded.

A lot of times I’m on the road, but for the past week and a half I’ve been in the office so it’s weird. I’ve had meetings all day today, but every single one has been remote. I spend a lot of time talking on the phone or following up with people. My typical day is just meetings and on the computer.

Do you miss your time working in the shop?

One of the things I talked about is why women leave. But one of the reasons why women stay is because they really identify with the work, part of their identity is that they’re an engineer.

I primarily identify with being an engineer. Right now being in HR I kind of miss that, but I still have the connection there which is where I’m working.

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