“Make sure that you’re heard. There’s a lot of tendency for women in this industry to feel like they don’t want to be labeled… but if you don’t feel heard, then you’re not going to start building that trust with your team so definitely speak out. And speak out early.”
Part One: Professional Sole
Q: How’s your company been doing with COVID-19?
A: We’re doing a good, we really didn’t have a lot of effects from quarantining and COVID in the St Louis area. It really hasn’t been all that significant until more recently with numbers spiking but we’ve been doing well. There is a thermal camera that checks everybody as they come in the door, everybody’s been wearing masks. We’ve had a couple incidences where people have tested positive for COVID and then everybody that’s been in contact with them is sent out on a precautionary quarantine. They then have to get tested before coming back, so we really haven’t had any like inter-site spread. Out of everybody that gets sent out, nobody is coming back and saying, “oh yeah I was interacting with them and now I’m positive too”, it has not been spreading. They’ve been doing a good job taking extra precautions and sending extra people out. Staffing has been tough because most of the positive cases have been coming from our Frontline team, so that’s been a challenge. They are the ones doing most of the work, so we have a lot of people on overtime covering those positions. That’s been the biggest puzzle, making sure we’ve got people here every day.
Tell us a little about your current role?
I am a Process Improvement Engineer at Pepsi. I work on reducing waste, increasing efficiencies and then generally helping out where I can. I’ve been working at Pepsi for a while, so I have a lot of knowledge to share with some of our younger, newer supervisors.
Q: How long have you been at Pepsi?
A: Three and a half years but you really learn a lot in the first 2 (laughter). You learn a lot about how these machines work. Beverage processing is a little bit different so understanding how the fillers work, how different packers work, how different blenders work and understanding the entire scope of it all, all at once, is a lot. It takes a while for you to kind of get the hang of your regular job aspects, like managing people, doing administrative tasks, and then on top of that troubleshooting. You have to know how things work in order to troubleshoot. There is just a lot of information, different machines and different processes that go into it.
Q: What is your advice for the younger, newer supervisors?
A: A lot of it is about how to work with people. My theory on management is that everybody is an individual so you can’t manage to your own style. You have to manage how your team wants to be managed. Joe and Jane are not going to be motivated by the same thing so when you go and talk to them you might have to use different strategies to get them to do the same task. They are individual people, so you have to tailor your management style and how you communicate with them based on who you’re talking to. Other than that, it’s technical things they’re going to need help with too. They may say, “hey I don’t know how this water system works” or “we’re having this problem, why?”. I always try to explain how it works and why it’s doing this and why that gives you this symptom to the problem, so that when they go back and they have an issue later they’re going to think, “hey, I remember when Lydia told me this 6 months ago, I know exactly what to do now”. Or “I know why it’s doing that” or “I might learn something about how this machine works in St Louis because I might have a similar problem in another plant in Houston and I could remember, when we were in St Louis we did this and this is why” and they could share that information and add that to their troubleshooting arsenal.
Q: Have you had to learn these management skills the hard way?
A: Oh yeah… a lot of beverages are made out of water, so we have a water treatment system. My manager used to be in charge of that and when he got promoted that fell in my lap. So now I had to learn about how ozone sanitation and water looks like, how reverse osmosis systems work, how all of that piping works and where it all goes and how everything is filtered. There’s a lot of information and a lot of stuff back there, so there are times where I’ve been there in the middle of the night because we’re having issues and we can’t make soda without water, so we have to get it going. We have to figure out what’s going on. For example, right now we’re having an issue where we have a pump that keeps faulting out. So, we’re trying to figure out why the pump is faulting out. Is this an electrical issue, is it a mechanical issue, is it some sort of blockage down the line? I find I’m learning stuff all the time just by being there, hands-on. It’s not the most efficient way to learn things but it is the best way to learn things sometimes, especially when you’re solving problems.
Q: That sounds very stressful, especially since you are working at a major company like Pepsi. What are you tips for getting through or coping with the stress?
A: Yes. I can think of one time that I came in at 5:00 am and I was still here at 9:00 p.m. I felt like I was banging my head against the wall trying to do the same thing over and over again. Sometimes you just have to leave the problem. You’re not going to solve in the next 5 minutes, go grab a cup of coffee, sit down, play a game on your phone real quick, go for a walk and do whatever it is you need to do to just give yourself a minute to get out of that same trouble shooting zone. When my brain is just full steam ahead for so long it just stops working. Sometimes I need to take a step back, go do something else for 5 or 10 minutes and then come back to the problem. Usually, I end up with a clearer head. That time we had to bring a contractor in to help support so I just went and got dinner. I grabbed a burger and when I came back, I felt a lot better. It is stressful when you’ve got 20-30 people out there on the floor who don’t have anything to do because they don’t have water so they can’t make soda. I have to get these people back working because that’s just money down the drain at that point every time we stop.And then you just have to remember: it’s just soda. I say that to my coworkers a lot when they get really stressed out. I have to tell that to myself as well. It’s not the end of the world, no one is going to die, nothing is going to explode, the company is not going to go under – it’s just soda, well figure it out.
Q: How did you end up at Pepsi?
A: I started out working at U. S. Steel, a really heavy industrial company with a manufacturing environment. They actually idled their plants so all of the new hires right out of college were laid off. Eventually they called them back, but it was too late, so I ended up finding a new job in technical sales. I worked with a water services company where they service water wells, city water systems and water treatment things. I did that for a while, but I was just not really interested in the sales side of things. It was a lot of schmoozing and that just doesn’t appeal to me. It was a fine job, but I really wanted to get back into manufacturing and I found a job at Pepsi. There was also a job at “the other guys” open at the same time, similar position, but when I really looked into, I decided on PepsiCo. It’s just such a huge company, they’ve got Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Quaker, Tropicana, Gatorade- they just had such a diverse portfolio. I thought, this seems like a place that I want to be. I had just been laid off from a job I did not really enjoy and I wanted to find somewhere that’s going to be around for a while and get back into manufacturing. People have to eat and people have to drink, so that’s what really appealed to me originally. But I really loved it when I visited. I really liked the people, it was a smaller plant, it seemed like a fun job. Pepsi is one of those places where the people that are above you spend a lot of time developing your career. I’ve never been at a company that sits down and asked me, “where do you want to be in 10 years? How do we get you there?”. At other jobs, people will ask, “where do you want to be?” but here they’re actively working on getting you the critical skills you need to get you where you need to go. That’s what I’ve really appreciated because I could sit down with my manager and determine what the next step is to get this position. I will ask, “what do I need to do to get me there in six months or a year? What do you think it’s going to take for me to do this?”. I really appreciate that. It’s not only just the managers, the HR department and a lot of the senior divisional leaders spend a lot of time focusing on building up that next generation of managers and plant directors. I haven’t seen that in another company before. That’s part of why I’m still at Pepsi. I was in Kansas City for most of my time at Pepsi at a smaller plant. They ended up closing that plant down due to financial reasons. So, I had the opportunity to stay in the city and leave Pepsi, but their management style and values kept me here. I didn’t want to lose out on that kind of development and the relationship that Pepsi has with its team members.
Q: We heard both of your parents are engineers.
A: Yeah, my dad and mom are both Mechanical Engineers. They both worked at Lockheed Martin at one point. My dad bounced around for a while and he’s at L3 now.
Q: Did your parent’s careers influence you? Did you always know you were going to be an engineer?
A: I think a little bit. As I got older, I knew that’s kind of what I wanted to do because there’s not a lot of people in that industry. If your parents aren’t engineers, typically you don’t know what engineers do. That’s how I knew what you could do with it, from my parents. Honestly, when I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina. As I got a little older I really wanted to be a lawyer because I thought I was super great at arguing with people (laughter). Then in high school I started taking a lot of extra math and science classes. By then I kind of decided that I wanted to do science and engineering but after talking to my chemistry teacher and my physics teacher about what I liked about those two subjects, they sent me towards chemical engineering. It involves both subjects but the best part of it is that you didn’t have to decide what you wanted to do until you are further along in college. Chemical Engineering is of the more broad engineering fields. You can do everything a mechanical engineer can do you, you can do everything that a petroleum engineer can do, and you don’t have to decide what you want to do until closer to graduation. I really like manufacturing and working at Pepsi because you get to see things getting made and everything happens really fast. Growing up I really loved the show How It’s Made. I think I watched every episode. Thinking back on it, even as a kid, this is what I was meant to do. I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t go specifically out at 15 or 16 years old thinking I want to work at a food manufacturing plant. But it all makes sense to me now.
Q: Do people seem confused about what you do when you first tell them you are an engineer?
A: Yeah, I always have to explain kind of what it is and I always use the analogy- I make more soda for less money with less weight, faster. Or, I’m making thousands of cookies instead of one cookie. That’s how I describe my job to people who don’t know what engineers do. Most people assume if you’re an engineer that means you’re really smart and then that’s kind of where the conversation ends. At a company my husband worked for, they did a lot of out-reach events especially for women. They would go to schools and teach them about what engineering is. Most people think of engineers sitting at the computer, designing things and really that’s not how it is for a lot of us. A lot of plant directors at Pepsi are engineers because having a technical background is great. To run manufacturing plants like this to be a manager of people you don’t have to be a business major. We find a lot of really good people leaders, especially in manufacturing and construction engineering fields. Some people want to work with people and want to manage people but they don’t really think of engineering as a way of getting there. There’s different types of majors that are still related to engineering or science that fit into working with or managing people. My husband thought an engineer was someone who drove a train and now he’s an engineer! He had no idea what an engineer was in high school looking to college.
Q: What are the odds both of your parents are engineers and you and your husband are both engineers?
A: I met my husband when I was in school. The school I went to is 75% science and engineering so statically you would think there was a high probability that was going to happen. But, a lot of people that we’ve met have met their spouse outside of the school and a lot of them are teachers or doing other things. A double engineering couple is kind of an anomaly and you know there’s always fighting over who’s the smarter one… and yeah it’s always me. It’s always the woman (laughter).
Q: There is a stereotype of engineers not having good people skills, do you find that stereotype to be true?
A: I think it can be a stereotype. It’s probably not as common as you think, but you do find very introverted engineers that are not energized by being around people and don’t like to stand up and take charge. There’s some people that are just never going to be that assertive. I guess all stereotypes are true sometimes, but I would say that the further we get along, the more time I spend as an engineer I feel like I meet a lot more people that are more outgoing. My work personality is extroverted but when I’m at home I’m more introverted and just want to be in my PJs watching Netflix with my dogs. I’m that crazy dog person with three bigger dogs.
Q: How do you think women are defining what it means to be professional?
A: I have never really been in a situation where women’s voices were not heard but I know my husband has been in those situations. He’s been in meetings where one of his female colleagues will say something and it doesn’t get any traction, but he’ll repeat the same thing and then people will say oh that’s a good idea, and he’s like this was her idea. I would not take that well (laughter). I think it depends on the industry too, and the company culture. Here at Pepsi it’s very diverse. Our leadership team is almost 50% women so when you look at manager, supervisors, plant directors. There are a lot of us. The women here have earned a lot of respect because we are very knowledgeable, and we work hard I’m so our opinions and voices are heard. But, I think we definitely have to work harder to get recognized in general in all industries. When you see really successful women, they are very successful because when they first started out, they really had to work hard to prove themselves and earn that initial trust with leadership. I feel like women have to work a little bit harder, you have to show a little bit more results before you really earn a high level of respect.
Q: Have you experienced a lot of competition among women since they have to work so much harder to gain respect?
A: I’ve run into two different kinds of women leaders. There’s a one group of women who love to support other women and pull women up with them and then there is another group who want to be seen as the best woman and can be very competitive. But for the most part, you see women trying to bring other women with them as they move up and are always continuing to support each other. I try to do that because I always want more women here. There are a lot of people that are rooting for you, but you do run into the people sometimes that just want to be the best. It’s not super significant, it’s not like people are out to get each other, there have just been a few instances where I wish we could have been more supportive of each other.
Q: Do you have any advice for women in similar Fields?
A: Make sure that you’re heard. There’s a lot of tendency for women in this industry to feel like they don’t want to be labeled as someone who’s bossy or someone who’s trying to climb the ladder or a bitch. There are ways to make yourself heard and present your argument in a logical manner. You have to put fact behind your opinions. You have to make sure that you’re heard because you don’t want to sit by and waste a good idea that’s really going to help. If you don’t speak up and say something or really give your argument, you’re never going to improve anything. If you don’t feel heard, then you’re not going to start building that trust with your team so definitely speak out. And speak out early. Even if you’re just asking questions like, “why do we do it this way?” If you bring that up, you’re going to get known as somebody who is passionate and wants to do better and be part of a team rather than just sitting back and reacting.
Q: Do any specific situations come to mind, any instances when you felt like maybe you weren’t being heard? How did you handle it?
A: Really early on in my career, before I was working at Pepsi, I had an idea to change something that would make us more efficient. I was new and I got the impression they felt I didn’t really know what I was talking about. They responded to my suggestion with “oh we always do it this way” so I really had to go and dig into the data and show them why they should hear me out. I had to really work hard to get their buy-in. I was working on a blast furnace, so adjusting different ratios of fuel and air and iron, so when I brought that up, I brought up facts. That’s my go-to when I’m trying to make an argument. I’m going to overload you with information supporting my theory. What’s the harm in just trying it? What’s really going to happen if we just try this one. I try to follow problems to the end- if I do this and it goes badly what’s the worst that could happen? We might lose an hour of time, but we could gain 7 hours of time if it works, or we could increase our efficiency by this amount. It might drop off briefly, but we can go back and just change it. As long as there’s not like a significant drawback there is no harm in trying to improve. If I ever am worried about how an idea will be received, I try to be over prepared. And sometimes it ends up being a waste of time, everyone agrees with me or agrees to try out my theory. But if not, I’ve at least got an arsenal of responses to any questions that they could ask.
Q: Who has had a positive influence on you or who is someone you admire?
A: I’ve always looked up to my dad. My dad was a big nerd in college and he’s just got a great way of talking to people and networking and explaining things that I’ve always admired. I’ve tried to model my management style after him. I’m always very to the point, almost a little bit blunt. After seeing my dad working at Christmas parties or other events, he is able to get to the point, but he tries to make people feel appreciated first. He starts off by saying hi and asking them how they are doing whereas I go straight to the point with hey I need your help with this. I didn’t say hello or how is your day going before asking for things. He just has this way of influencing people that I’ve admired and aspired to. He’s done really well in his career and he made that transition from scientific engineer into management roles and where I wanted to head as well. So, I’ve been watching him throughout his career and anytime I have some sort of career-related question, he’s the first person I call. I can ask him advice on what I can do if I want to get this position or if I’m having an issue at work. He’s always the first person I reach out to, to bounce ideas off of.
Other than that, I look up to the first manager I had at Pepsi, his name is Eric, he now works in Florida. He did a really good job of always asking why and he used to talk about what he calls “seek to understand”. When there’s a problem, let’s not make any assumptions about why this person didn’t do this job or why this happened. Instead, let’s ask questions before we start making assumptions. When you immediately start off sounding accusatory, asking questions like, “why didn’t you install this part ?”or, “why didn’t you finish this job?” or, “why didn’t you file this report?” it automatically puts that person in defensive mode. Instead, start off like hey I saw this report didn’t get filed last night, what happened here. Usually there’s a good reason why something is off, and if there’s not a good reason that’s fine too and you can deal with that later but, at least you give somebody a chance to respond. I came into work one day and immediately asked, why aren’t the lines running? Eric approached me and said, well did you even ask what happened last night first? I said no, I didn’t ask that, and re-worked my approach. I always remind myself, never come in guns blazing.
Q: Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
A: 10 years from now I would love to be a plant director. Mostly because I’d really like to be developing other leaders and mentoring people. I’d love to teach people how you go through the troubleshooting process and how you get better at being a supervisor. Then preparing those supervisors to be managers, and then plant directors. I’d love to spend the next 10 years learning those things myself and getting to those places but bringing people with me. I guess being a leader is what I want to do is. Helping other people get where they need to go is what I want to spend my time doing. Helping people like me to be where they want to be in 10 years.
Q: And do you see yourself doing that at Pepsi?
A: Yeah, I definitely do. Like I said, Pepsi’s one of the only companies you’ll find that spends so much time talking about how to develop their employees. I think it’s a great place to work. I’ve got no plans on going anywhere else, it’s pretty awesome. Pepsi is definitely a loyal company to their employees which you don’t see often. And Pepsi does a really great job of supporting women and supporting diversity. Whether that’s gender, whether that’s race, whether that’s age, background etc. That’s a really big company focus, and I think it shows with how successful we are. They create a really good culture for women to thrive in, they have paid maternity and paternity leave. They do a lot with their benefits to support women’s health. They even have different programs for childcare that subsidizes emergency backup care. For example, if your child gets a snow day you can take them to a daycare center and it would cost me $15 instead of $60 or $70 or having to miss a day of work. And that’s subsidized by the company and that’s a benefit that they provide, not through insurance, just because you work here. They’ve also done really great things during COVID like backup care relief so the Frontline employees could get reimbursed for babysitters when all of the day cares were shut down. They really support families. They know it’s going to make their employees happy. I really appreciate all that they do to support their employees and the women that work for them.
Part Two: Personal Sole
Q: Getting a little cliche here, what is your dream job?
A: I would own a brewery and bakery combo, which I know sounds like an odd combination (laughter). I had an internship with Anheuser-Busch, and I love going to craft breweries. I would love to learn how to homebrew, but I haven’t found the time or the resources to do that quite yet. But I also love baking and I’m really good at it. I love watching cooking shows like The Great British Bake-Off. If money was not an issue, I would open a brewery bakery bar where you also play board games. I would start with a wheat beer and some sort of cool fruit cider. It would be something off the wall like star fruit cider. For the bakery I would start with a classic chocolate chip cookie and I also make these banana chocolate chip cupcakes with fluffy banana filling and a whip chocolate frosting ganache with walnuts. A goal would be to figure out French macarons. I have made them before, and they taste really good, but they don’t look quite right (laughter).
What would the aesthetic of your dream restaurant be?
I really like the industrial look, so you know medium to dark wood with black metal accents and a lot of Windows. Maybe some brick walls. But keep it very simple. So very similar to downtown St. Louis.
Q: What is your superpower?
A: How to find something. If someone at work is trying to find a contact at another plant, they always ask me. I will at least know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody, so I can track down the right person. Or if they’re looking for a way to look up certain data, or where to find stuff, I’m the go-to person. If I don’t know, I at least know somebody else that knows. I’m like an information detective, or sleuth. Years of Facebook internet stalking has really helped prepare me. (I’m also really good at always managing to call my husband when he is in the bathroom.)
Q: What is your go-to order at a coffee shop?
A: I love peppermint mochas when they are in season. As soon as fall hits I’m like okay, do you guys have the peppermint mocha yet? I only order it hot. In the summer I do a boring vanilla iced latte. Those are my go-to’s. Even when I used to work at a coffee shop, that’s what I ordered. And I don’t drink coffee every day, it’s more of a special occasion thing. Whenever I take my little sister to Target, we stop by Starbucks. Or if I have a cute fall outfit on, I get inspired to go get a coffee.
What social media platform do you use the most?
I’m a really old person when it comes to social media, so I just still use Facebook. I have a Twitter account, but I haven’t used it since college. I only look at Twitter sometimes when fun things are trending, I enjoyed all the reactions to the debates. I also have Instagram, but I just post pictures of my dogs, stuff that I bake and my little sister who’s just adorable.
Q: Who is your favorite band or singer or musician to listen to?
A: I usually listen to top hits on Pandora but I’m also super into Taylor Swift. Her Lover album is the last CD I bought, and I never buy CDs. I am definitely a Taylor Swift fan.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I always fill up my weekends. Maybe once a month I will do a low-key PJ day and watch movies and play with my dogs or clean the house, but I prefer having people over. We will do crafts, sit outside and do nothing, eat food, play board games or go to the park. I do like to stay at home, but I like having people over. Recently we’ve been into these murder mystery cold case file games you buy on Amazon. They’re amazing! You get to solve a murder! They give you a folder and it’s got witness interviews and witness statements and suspect interviews and crime scene photos. We’ve been doing those and passing the games around our friend group. My husband and I will sit with our whiteboard and we’ll put all the pictures up there and try to solve the murder. I just love solving problems and figuring things out. I watch a lot of true crime shows, documentary’s and unsolved mysteries. It has been a great way to have fun during COVID. We are just really into games. We had family game night basically every night really early on when everything was closed. We even learned how to play settlers of Catan and bought a bunch of expansion packs. And we played a lot of clue, again, more murder mysteries to solve (laughter).
Q: Do you feel like you are able to have a healthy work life balance?
A: Yes. With all jobs, work life balance comes and goes. Sometimes you’re going to have a big project deadline, personally I’m going to end up here for 20 hours some days because something’s broken and I’m the only person that knows how to fix it. But, when you do that, the last time I was there for 20 hours, my boss told me to take the next day off. We all put in the time that we need to and they’re very understanding when you need to take time off and have time away. I also have a work phone which I carry with me every day, but I don’t get calls outside of work hours very often. We all try to make sure that people have a life outside of work, which is really great.