Shannon Karels and Kathy Miller are co-founder of OpSisters, a training, consulting and coaching organization in 2020. They work with companies, teams and individuals interested in improving business performance results through proven lean principles and inclusive cultures. They are also co-authors of “Steel Toes and Stilettos: A True Story of Women Manufacturing Leaders and Lean Transformation Success” (Routledge/Productivity Press, 2021).

The two joined forces professionally when Miller hired Karels to be a member of her leadership team. Their book describes the transformation they led to convert operations from traditional manufacturing to a lean enterprise.


Invaluable relationships

I asked them to share some of their advice for other women in manufacturing and/or those who aspire to become leaders.

Miller said, “At first, it was a difficult question for us to answer because we did not particularly focus on being women – we just were people working hard at doing the jobs we were engaged in.  However, with the recent publication of our book, ‘Steel Toes and Stilettos,’ we took time to reflect on this question so that we could share our insights, particularly if it helps anyone in the manufacturing environment to understand what was meaningful to us on our journey from engineer and supply chain professional to manufacturing executive and senior manager.

“First and foremost, stay true to yourself and have confidence in your ability to get results.  You have stepped into this world of manufacturing, and you are up for the challenge. Manufacturing, at the end of the day, is about people and processes. While you are focused on providing meaningful contributions, it is advisable that you make your personal assessment of the realities of the situation.  Do not rely solely on what other people are telling you – go to where the work you support is performed to understand the data and use your personal observations to help guide you as you help the organization perform in an optimal manner. 

“The relationships you make along the way are invaluable, particularly with those whose daily lives are spent doing the work you seek to improve. Each and every person you meet matters and has important contributions to make. If you develop relationships based on trust and respect, others will work with you and not against you. If you do encounter someone that does not offer you the respect you deserve (and we all have), always take the high road.”


Stay true to yourself

Karels and Miller hope their book inspires leaders in any organization by showcasing women supporting one another in the workplace to drive positive culture.              

Karels said aspiring leaders should “face challenges no matter where they come from with tenacity, determination, and grit. Be willing to learn continuously and use your unique talents and strengths in solving problems and overcoming obstacles. 

“But all in all, stay true to yourself throughout your days in manufacturing. While your performance and skills, including how you navigate the environment, will always be developing and growing, being your authentic self with your values and strengths will help you thrive in the long run.  And while you will regularly wear those steel toes proudly, you can still show off those fancy heels anytime you want (as long as it’s safe to do so!).”

The book is available to purchase on Amazon.