Women in the Industry – Christine Walczak
The steel industry has been a male-dominated industry for years and continues to be one, even today. The business is poised for a change as more women begin to enter this and other fields of work that were previously closed off. Several women have paved the way, and others are continuing to follow suit, including Christine Walczak. Christine is the Quality Manager at Wheatland Tube steel mill in Chicago, IL.
We had the opportunity to meet and talk with Christine who has some amazing insight and advice for women who are interested in a career in the steel industry.
How did you know you wanted to work in this industry? What lead you to this career?
I didn’t know that I wanted a career in the steel industry. I started my career in the coatings industry and an opportunity for a Laboratory Manager at Wheatland Tube presented itself.
What is it like to be a woman in a male dominated industry?
When I started 18 years ago, at Wheatland Tube, I was the first woman who was a manager to work on the manufacturing floor. It was difficult to develop the trust and respect of my peers in a male dominated plant. However, I feel that the industry has changed over the years and has become more accepting of women in a manufacturing environment, making it much easier for a woman to enter this male dominated industry.
What does your daily routine look like?
My day is routine but can be hectic at times. We are producing products 24 hours a day and I never know what problems may arise during this time. As the Quality Manager, I interface with every department on a daily basis. At any time during the day, I may need to be on the floor addressing an issue in our warehouse, inspecting incoming raw materials, troubleshooting a production issue, or assisting on a sales call to address a customer complaint.
Do you think being a woman in this industry makes the career path more difficult? Less difficult?
I believe it is a little bit of both, it all depends upon what you are trying to pursue. There are certain career paths in manufacturing that are very accepting of women in the workplace such as Human Resources, Customer Service, Marketing, and Quality. However, it may be more difficult career-wise in other areas such as Production, Maintenance, and Logistics because there aren’t many women interested in those areas in this industry.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced being a woman in the steel manufacturing industry?
I don’t feel that the challenges I have faced in my career had anything to do with me being a woman in the steel manufacturing industry, but more to do with my position as a Quality Manager. My role is to ensure that our products meet and exceeds customers’ expectations. The Quality Department is held to higher standards and expected to be perfect. When the quality of our products is superior and reliable our customers are happy and you could say that I am making an impact on the organization which always makes me feel good about my job. When something goes wrong or we have an issue with one of our products, I am the first person to hear the negative feedback and this could be very stressful and challenging.
What has been the best thing about being a woman in this industry?
The best thing about being a woman in the steel industry is people tend to underestimate my knowledge, this can definitely be a confidence booster. There have been times throughout my career where I have visited a customer due to a quality complaint. As soon as I walk through that door at the job site I just know by the look on a customer’s face that this customer is angry and the last thing he wants to hear is what this woman has to say, because he has 30 years in this business. Yes, I have been through many of these situations, I have had customers tell me they have more experience than me and that can be very uncomfortable at times. However, after about an hour discussing the issue and listening you start to gain the customer’s confidence. My knowledge of our products and my ability to understand the customer’s issues I usually solve the customer’s problems.
What is something you are most proud of that others in your position haven’t achieved?
I started my career working for a family owned coatings company as the receptionist and went to a city college for 2 semesters. I decided to quit college and work a full- time job. After a few years the owner of the company asked if I would consider going back to college if he offered to pay for my undergraduate degree. I jumped at the opportunity and went to college part-time while working full-time for 8 years. After I began working at Wheatland Tube, I took advantage of their tuition assistance program and obtained my Master’s Degree. I am most proud of my dedication and perseverance. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get my entire college education for free.
What advice do you have for younger generations and young women who aspire to have a career whether in sales or other fields in this industry?
Throughout my 28 years of working, the biggest mistake that I see people make early in their careers is coming into a new job with little experience and thinking they already know everything. They are too proud to ask questions and because of this they don’t learn as much as they can. I was fortunate to have mentors throughout my career and would not be where I am today without them. They have taught me a wealth of information and have given me the confidence I have today. The advice I would give anyone is to find yourself a mentor and use them to your advantage. Learn everything you can from them and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. There are many veteran employees in the workplace that would be more than willing to share their knowledge, which in my opinion is priceless, but you have to be willing to listen and put your time in.
Would you like to participate in our Women In The Industry series? Email us today and we will contact you to set up an interview!