Episode 52

52: Empowering Connections with Women in Manufacturing (WiM) Southern Wisconsin

This special episode, partially recorded live at the Women in Manufacturing (WiM) Southern Wisconsin Chapter event 'From Mic to Merlot' on May 15, 2024, at Wollersheim Winery, delves into the experiences and impact of WiM. The hosts share their excitement about the event and interview Andrea Virsnieks, President of WiM Southern Wisconsin, who provides insights into the organization’s mission, history, and her personal journey in reviving the chapter. The episode also features interviews with several WiM members discussing the importance of networking, the unique challenges and opportunities for women in the manufacturing industry, and the sense of community within WiM. Listeners are encouraged to explore WiM and its resources to join a supportive and inspiring network.

Learn More About WiM


WiM Southern Wisconsin Chapter

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WiM Southern Wisconsin LinkedIn

Andrea Virsnieks is a Principal at CLA, where she specializes in serving the manufacturing industry, working with both privately held and private equity-owned companies. With a wealth of experience in assurance, auditing, consulting, and due diligence services, Andrea provides strategic insight and innovative solutions that drive growth and profitability for her clients. Her deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities within the manufacturing sector has made her a trusted advisor.

Andrea is known for her collaborative leadership style and her ability to build and maintain strong relationships with clients and business owners. She is committed to staying current with industry trends and regulations, ensuring that she delivers the most relevant and effective guidance.

Beyond her professional work, Andrea is actively involved with the Southern Wisconsin chapter of Women in Manufacturing (WiM). As the Chair on the Board, she dedicates her time to supporting, promoting, and inspiring women in the manufacturing industry. WiM is a national organization that empowers women through networking, education, and career development opportunities.

In her role at CLA and through her work with WiM, Andrea continues to make a significant impact on the manufacturing industry and the professional growth of women within the field.

Featuring WiM members Jennifer Black, Ariana Carney, Michele David, Maegan Miller, Loretta Mulberry, Debbie Shilling, Rachel Walter and Tori Wood.


00:00 Live at Women in Manufacturing Event: A Phenomenal Experience

01:59 Special Guest: Andrea Virsnieks, President of WiM Wisconsin

02:51 The Revival and Mission of WiM: Andrea's Journey

08:20 Expanding WiM: Growth, Goals, and Membership Insights

10:38 Event Attendees Share Their WiM Stories

15:30 Reflecting on Women's Roles in Manufacturing

18:54 Generational Perspectives on Women in Manufacturing

21:39 Wrapping Up: The Bright Future of WiM

Connect with the broads!

Connect with Erin on LinkedIn!

Connect with Lori on LinkedIn and visit www.keystoneclick.com for your strategic digital marketing needs!  

Connect with Kris on LinkedIn and visit www.genalpha.com for OEM and aftermarket digital solutions!


[00:00:48] Erin Courtenay: You guys, I'm so excited about our episode today. I have to say going to the Women in Manufacturing event at Wollersheim Winery was a phenomenal experience. And I'm so excited that we get to spend a little focused time talking about WiM. Right?


[00:01:21] Kris Harrington: Yes. You were really busy in our recording area. It was a wonderful event and what I really loved is that it was very intimate. And when everybody sat at each of the tables, you really got to talk to the people that were there. Yeah. Very nice.


So I'm really glad that we get to have our special guest today, which is Andrea Virsnieks. She is the President of Women in Manufacturing in Wisconsin. And in fact, not only is she the President, we have her to thank for bringing the organization back to life here in the state of Wisconsin.

So with that, thank you and welcome Andrea.


[00:02:32] Erin Courtenay: Oh, well, thank you. It was, it was super, super fun. So as we said before, you know, we did some great recording there, but we were really hoping that we could sit down and chat with you and get some down and dirty details, okay, not dirty, but down deep, deep details on WiM the history of WiM and the mission of WiM.

Can you tell us, what is WiM and what's so great about it?


And long story short, I will not tell you all of what happened, but basically.


[00:03:39] Andrea Virsnieks: Yes, these are the dirty details for sure. Okay, let's go there. And yes, but yeah. This is where in 2018 we spent a long time looking for a board, right? We cold calling, reaching out to people on LinkedIn.

And mind you, I want to also say I'm an introvert. I hate networking. I hate hearing no. I hate being all of those things, right? So just yeah, so I feel it was a long summer of finding you know, a board. But once we found a board, we had so much energy around women in manufacturing, which I mean, you guys saw it. That's wonderful. Yeah. It was great. Yeah.


[00:04:16] Erin Courtenay: Well, I, I did not, first of all, that you should pat on the back for you, like to, to take that on, especially when it's not your comfort zone and that's how passionate you were about it. And now this opportunity is available for all of these amazing women in manufacturing.

You know, applause, can we, can we edit in the applause? Yeah. Oh, thank you. A little soundbite in there.


[00:04:56] Lori Highby: Well, we met, we met a lot of the leadership at the event and you can see everyone is like super awesome. They were on top of things, really well organized and just really support overall, everyone was really helpful and just wanting to make sure that we were in a good spot too, and set up for success. So the WiM board overall seems fantastic.


I've been to a few of the Southeastern Wisconsin events this year, and you can just, feel the energy at the events. People really want to be there. They want to be among peers from other businesses and groups. And they, they want to learn, they want to educate and, you know, I totally understand the fear of the networking piece, but it's a such a safe place to come.

So I really wanna make sure that we say that because we would certainly want to encourage more women to attend these events because you're gonna have a good time, you're gonna meet other people and you're gonna really learn things and you're gonna, you're gonna feel like you've just joined this tribe that you've been missing. And that's how I felt at the first summit event that I attended. It was like, Oh, there's this tribe of people out there and I've just been missing them. So I would just share that with everyone as well.


[00:06:36] Andrea Virsnieks: Yes, so obviously manufacturing is a very male dominated industry and we need the male allies to support us, to support women get, you know, growing in the organization, in the industry. So yes, definitely, males are welcome. They just might be a little outnumbered, but yes.


[00:07:02] Kris Harrington: That's right.


So one of the things that we talked about a lot, Andrea, following the event, and honestly, we talk about it quite frequently, is what it does mean. Like, what are the challenges? What are the opportunities to be a woman that is working in the manufacturing industry?

Like, what makes it a unique experience outside of some of the other sectors that haven't had more traditional female roles or more common to have women in the workforce? What makes manufacturing a little different and why this organization is so important?


Ideas to bring back to your company I would say that, you have that confidence after you go to one of those events, I feel energized for weeks. So I don't know, Kris, you said that, you felt like a great energy after you left that event, which is awesome. I'm glad that's our, our vibe at our, at these events. but I feel like you have that.


[00:08:27] Andrea Virsnieks: We've talked about that. That's one of our new things in regards to coming up with the next fiscal year goals, but really just getting the word out there, right? Bringing women along, growing our, our membership and then just really supporting, inspiring and promoting women. We have grown significantly. We are one of the fastest growing chapters. We started at 90 members when we relaunched back in May of 2019 and we're over 1600 members now with two chapters.


[00:08:59] Andrea Virsnieks: It's a great group, for sure.


[00:09:08] Andrea Virsnieks: Yeah, so I would say if you want to join your 100 percent yes, I want to support WiM and be part of this group, go on to the website, find our Southern Wisconsin chapter, and then just, you know, contact us if you have any questions. But otherwise you can join as a member. We have all of our events posted, and if you are unsure, reach out to one of us board members.

We'd love to reach out, come meet you for coffee, lunch, whichever, or even come to an event, right, and see what it's all about. We have one coming up at the end of, end of July is our next one. So, yeah, come to our next event and come see what it's all about.


[00:09:48] Andrea Virsnieks: Yup, of course.


[00:09:51] Kris Harrington: Is that the beer garden event?


[00:09:55] Kris Harrington: Yeah, so, what, last one was wine, now it's beer, I mean, we really, you can't go wrong here.


[00:10:04] Lori Highby: It's very Wisconsin.

Awesome. This is so great. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us and recap the event, talk about WiM. We're big, big fans and advocates of the organization and appreciate that we are able to participate in the event. That was such a fun time.


[00:10:29] Lori Highby: All right, it was so fun to be able to interview, connect with some of the members and attendees at the WiM event. We've got a handful of short clips to, to share with you.


[00:11:01] Debbie Shilling: I'm Debbie Schilling, I'm with D. C. Henning. We are a manufacturer's rep, so for a group of manufacturers that do not want to have their own sales teams, we go ahead and create an outside sales group for them.

So with being in sales, WiM is, it's really a big networking spot for me. Women tend to network better than any other. I mean, I go to a lot of conferences. I am in PowerGen a lot, so it's very male dominated. Manufacturing in general tends to be, but it's trending more women. But PowerGen very much is male dominated.

So networking is key, and I've gone there. But what I found is that women tend to network better, because they're not just trying to grow their own network. We're busy trying to grow everybody else's network. So for me, I get a chance to grow my network, but I also get to share my network and maybe help someone else out.

And then, you know, it's filling my own cup, if you will. Make me feel better about what I can offer.


So I became a member in 2022 so I haven't been a member that long, even though I've been working in a manufacturing business for a long time, and I started by going to the summit, the WiM Summit, which was in Atlanta, Georgia. And I met some great women. So it wasn't so big that it was overwhelming. And so a lot of it is the networking and sharing stories.

So I belong to the Society of Women Engineers, but Women in Manufacturing encompasses such a diverse group of women. So you have people that are on the manufacturing floor, you have people that are designing products, you have people that are part of implementing the actual manufacturing process.

So it's just such a diverse group, and that's what I really like about it.


[00:12:59] Tori Wood: I'm Tori Wood.


[00:13:05] Tori Wood: This is Tori, I'm a sales operations manager at GreenHack. So, we oversee the sales support team that's supports our manufacturers reps across the country that sell our product to the end customer.


So I think what attracted me to it in this industry, you work with a lot of men and that can be a little bit intimidating to some.

And what I like about WiM is getting to connect with people who might not be your coworkers but are in very similar positions that you're in. And just getting to share experiences and also get advice if you're having certain issues or different questions about what it's like to be a woman in the manufacturing industry.


[00:14:21] Erin Courtenay: You know, one of the things I was struck by was how many of our guests shared with us the value of the networking. And I think that that meant more than just business networking. It meant finding their place within this industry and making friends. And I just thought it was great that they have found such comfort within WiM to do that networking.

What did you, what'd you guys think?


[00:15:02] Lori Highby: Yeah, I agree. A sense a community, sense of being very inclusive and welcoming and advocacy.

Yeah, there was no sense of like uncomfortableness. Everyone just was very joyful and excited. And, and, and some people seemed surprised that there was a community out there like this. And and I think that's why we're here sharing the story and the message. Like there is some awesome advocacy and support for women in the manufacturing space.


[00:15:49] Loretta Mulberry: My name is Loretta Mulberry. I am the business development manager for Terra Translations. We do document translation for the manufacturing industry and the trades in general. We focus on safety, training, onboarding documents to bridge the language gap.

Being a woman in manufacturing, it's a really beautiful thing because there's, like I said, no gatekeeping. It's been very welcoming. It's been very open and very supportive. So if you are a woman looking to get into manufacturing or if you are a woman in manufacturing feeling isolated, it doesn't have to be like that.

Just reach out. I promise you won't be sorry. Your people are out there. You just have to go out and find them. And that might mean joining this group, Women in Manufacturing.


Women, you know, again, with breaking those glass ceilings, and more of the less that women can do just as much as what the guys can do, that, you know, you don't have to, in our case, go to a four year college and be in a bunch of debt. You, you can go out in the trades and make a lot of money . So that's what I love about, you know, manufacturing and that women's space.


You know, there's There's ebbs and flows in everything you do, and you have to be strong and confident and be willing to take constructive criticism, because it's the only way you're going to learn. And whether it comes from a male or a female, you need to take that with a grain of salt. There's not a lot of room in the professional world for all that catty chitchat, vindictive things that I think sometimes women like to do in groups. And so, I kind of like that whole, we're a good mix of male and female. I'm probably heavier male in my company. And it's just a good working environment.

You shouldn't run away from it because all women are going to think different than all men. And, but when you get a group together and you're all willing to listen, it's pretty important. You can get a pretty dynamic conversation going.


So for me, just because I know manufacturing does have the persona to be very male dominated, I think for being in this community, it really stands true to we can make a difference. Just because we're women, it doesn't back us down to any standard. So, that's what I love most about it. That's what stands out to me because I know I can make a difference in this world and it doesn't matter what my background is.


[00:18:54] Lori Highby: Okay. So what was interesting when we were asking the question about what you wish people knew about women in manufacturing, there was this somewhat generational divide in perspective where I would say the more experienced individuals were still reserved in some of the response. I thought that was really interesting and I did not anticipate that happening.


Whereas others like myself, a Gen X, and even maybe women among my age are a little bit more reserved about that topic because we've, we've been working in these male dominated fields for so long. And there's just been a way that you talk about it. So you, you reserve your thoughts about being a woman necessarily, and you could really sense that among the different people we were talking to. So but I understand it very, very well. I, you know, but I, I, I didn't realize it was going to be such a, an obvious divide like we experienced.


They were lit up talking about WiM in a unique way because they're excited and ready to invite more women into manufacturing. That's something that I noticed. Like they want to see that happen and they're doing, I mean, I'm so excited to follow some of these young women as they grow in their careers and the cool things they are doing to invite more women into manufacturing.

It's, it's, it's the future is so bright. You know?


I do want to say a special thank you to Jennifer Black, Ariana Carney, Michele David, Maegan Miller, Loretta Mulberry, Debbie Schilling, Rachel Walter, and Tori Wood for taking some time out with us. And I would encourage listeners to learn more about WiM and check out their resources. You can do that at womeninmanufacturing. org.


About the Podcast

Show artwork for a BROADcast for Manufacturers
a BROADcast for Manufacturers
The purpose of this show is to share knowledge, have fun and bring diverse, yet important topics in the manufacturing space to the forefront.

About your hosts

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Lori Highby

Lori Highby is a podcast host, speaker, educator, and founder of Keystone Click, a strategic digital marketing agency. Using her vast multi-industry knowledge – gained from experience and education, She has the ability to see the potential of greatness within the already established good of a business. Through strategic actionable moves, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies to micro-business owners, to achieve their marketing goals.
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Kristina Harrington

Kris Harrington is the President and Chief Operations Officer for GenAlpha Technologies. Kris joined GenAlpha in March of 2013 with the purpose to help B2B manufacturer’s grow revenue by implementing technologies that make it easier to do business.

Combined with the strength of her team, Kris is accountable for establishing customer relationships and engaging manufacturers in B2B commerce solutions that bring value to their organization and the customers they serve. Her discussions with manufacturing leaders tend to move into three different categories:

– Assessing the business for digital commerce readiness
– Finding ways to re-energize the sales channel by focusing on the customer experience
– Increasing options for managing the dealer vs direct sales strategy

Prior to joining GenAlpha, Kris worked for more than ten years in leadership positions with two large multinational manufacturing companies, Bucyrus International and Caterpillar, supporting the mining industry. In her various positions she had a responsibility to work with internal stakeholders, dealers, and customers to deliver business results both in aftermarket and equipment sales.
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Erin Courtenay

Erin Courtenay is VP of Digital Services at Earthling Interactive. Erin loves watching programmers work their magic, opening up the possibilities of the internet to small and medium businesses with powerful websites and custom software. Calling herself a “digital empathy practitioner”, Erin is determined to help clients move thoughtfully and compassionately into their digital future.