Women in Manufacturing
Optimizing the Operational Lines at Windsor
With dreams of a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Production (STEP) since high school, Marie Cyr graduated as a mechanical engineer from L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, joined Domtar in 1995 as a project engineer and soon transitioned to maintenance engineer. “I was the first female engineer at Windsor and the stakes were high,” Cyr recalled. “I realized very quickly I wanted to lead a team, and no challenge was too great for me to tackle in order to reach that goal.”
A few years later, she was named assistant director of pulp and energy operations, and a year thereafter, was promoted to director. “I knew I had the technical skills, but gaining credibility with my supervisor and male colleagues was the key to earning a leadership position,” said Cyr. “It took months to earn the trust of my co-workers on the floor, but as my reputation for problem-solving and team mentoring grew, the hard work paid off.”
Marie’s leadership skills were recognized once again in 2019, when she was named manager of our Dryden, Ontario, pulp mill. Domtar was pleased to have been able to fill this important role with a proven, internal leader.
When asked what changes she has seen in the workplace at Domtar over the past 20+ years, Cyr commented, “I’ve held many jobs during that span of time, and have seen first-hand how women in leadership have transformed and improved the mill’s daily operations. We enrich ideas, resulting in better operational performance.”
Cyr’s advice to younger women in manufacturing is to follow her lead. “If a position opens with more responsibility, have confidence in yourself and apply for it. Don’t wait for someone to recognize you before making the move, or it may never happen. If you need support, get a mentor through Domtar’s mentoring program. Your ambition will give you more credibility in the workplace,” she concluded, “Just remember, it always starts with one.”
From NASA to Domtar: Bringing Data Analytics to Personal Care
Alisha Thompson, recently promoted to senior director of the global digital center of excellence and business intelligence in Domtar’s Personal Care division, has been passionate about technology since she was a child. At 8 years old, she wrote her first computer program, a game for the Commodore 64.
While pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science at Western Kentucky University, she was a shy, self-described “nerd” and one of only three women in a program with close to 300 male students.
Fresh out of school, Thompson was recruited by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) where she worked in mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on space shuttle launches and reported to supervisors who had worked on Apollo missions. She learned that problem solving is best done through collaboration, and that her experience was applicable to many industries, especially manufacturing.
After leaving NASA and moving into the private sector, she worked on solution architecture, predicting results from production processes, analytics and quality assurance in such diverse industries as insurance, print media, pharmaceuticals and finance. Recruited by Domtar in 2013, Thompson now works closely with internal stakeholders in Personal Care to understand their business needs, and applies business intelligence tools, enterprise data analysis and customized dashboards from around the globe to translate data into targeted business solutions.
Thompson appreciates Domtar’s culture of inclusion and has some advice for young women advancing in their manufacturing careers, “Wisdom is based on making mistakes, so know they will happen. Be open to innovation. It will result in a home run or a setback, but you’ll learn from both. ”She then added, ”Highly-driven people are often very hard on themselves and that can sometimes hurt their ability to move forward. Be kind to yourself. Be a good friend to yourself, not your own worst critic. And give yourself a mental hug now and then!”
Tapping our future leaders
The path to developing and advancing talented women starts with attracting a diverse candidate pool, followed by challenging opportunities for growth and advancement. It is also helpful to have role models, such as Marie Cyr and Alisha Thompson to inspire and attract more women professionals to manufacturing.