August 3, 2022

Women In Tech At McMaster-Carr

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Episode Highlights

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Mary Grace Craczyk, Kate Guarna, Kiki Rhode, and Heather Linich-Mayer sit down to speak with Holistic’s Leah Dugan to talk about their experiences and growth at McMaster-Carr.

This is the sixth event in the D.E.I. Speaker Series at Hirewell which explores different aspects of D.E.I. in corporate America.

Episode Transcript

Welcome everyone to Hirewell’s Women in Tech at McMaster-Carr panel. My name is Leah Dugan. I’m a consultant at Holistic. We are a database DEI and employee engagement company. We’re also the sister company for our hosts for this event Hirewell and we are joined today by four professionals in tech, at eCommerce company, McMaster-Carr who also happen to be women.

So we’re here to get to know them a little bit better and hear a little bit more about their experiences at McMaster-Carr. So I will turn the introductions over to our guests. If you all would unmute and turn your videos on and just take turns introducing yourself, letting us know what your current role is and how long you’ve been at McMaster-Carr.

I can kick us off Leah. I’m Mary grace. I’ve been at McMaster for about three years. I’m a systems project manager here, largely focused on web application development. And I use she/her pronouns. Thanks Mary Grace. Hi, I’m Heather. I’m a project manager in systems as well. I joined the company just about a year ago.

Wonderful, welcome. And Kate.

Everyone. I’m Kate. I use she/her pronouns. I’m a software architect here at McMaster. I’ve been with the company since 2011 and I’ve been working in software since 2018. Wonderful and Kiki please. Hi, I’m Kiki. I use she/her pronouns. I am a director in our information systems department. And I’ve been here coming up on 15 years with most of my career kind of being in this department.

Wow. Wonderful. Well, I’d love to hear 📍 📍 a little bit about your backgrounds from each of you and what led you to your current career path?

Mary Beth, would you like to start or Heather? Oh, I can get started. So I joined McMaster after having several years developing at a few other jobs. And I was really looking to find a new position that was really going to allow me to kind of grow and learn and not be stagnant.

And that’s kind of where I felt I was headed previously. And so I ended up at chatting with everyone here at McMaster about a year ago. I was very attracted to our culture of learning and growing here and all challenging ourselves. That’s very much the reason why I got into technology to begin with. Everything’s always changing as we all know at the speed of light and I really just kind of wanted to always be in a position where I was pushing myself forward and challenging myself and you know, what new things can I learn and what can I do and build.

And that’s how I ended up here with this wonderful group of people and doing just what I hoped, learning something new pretty much every day. Excellent. That sounds wonderful.

I can go next. I actually worked in consulting for a few years after I graduated from undergrad. So I did not come from an engineering background other than my mechanical engineering degree in undergrad. But as I progressed in management in consulting, it was at a tech startup. So business side, but somewhat involved in tech. They told me the further up in management you get, the less technical things you should be doing, but I really liked technical things.

So McMaster reached out to me and they also, I’ll talk about it a little bit later, have a really generous tuition reimbursement program. So they said that they would pay for my MBA and they would let me continue to be technical as I progressed in management. And it sounded like a great opportunity.

And I’ve stuck around even after finishing my MBA. And it’s been a really great experience.

I can go next. So I mentioned I’ve been with the company since 2011 and I started in our Cleveland, Ohio branch in operations management- marketing, the phone contact center, a lot of different things there. And I’m actually from the Chicago suburbs. So in 2016, I moved back to Chicago to be closer to my family and conveniently,

this is also where our headquarters is located. So the company helped me make that transition over. I worked in a corporate department here and then in 2018, I moved to systems. I’ve always had an interest in technology. I didn’t study it formally in school, maybe more along the lines of dabbling a little.

But we share a lot of information at the company about what’s going on and I had heard about upcoming technology projects that I thought were really exciting. One of the things being a replacement for a product information system, which is actually something I’m hoping to contribute to now.

And so I expressed interest in moving over to our systems department. And one of the routes we do use to bring people over, is bringing them from other areas. And so people were really supportive in helping me make that move. And then I’ve been in systems since 2018 kind of taking on increasingly difficult technical tasks and building my expertise.

So it’s been a really fun growth experience, in my over 10 year career so far. Amazing.

And then I can go. So I was industrial engineering undergrad, and actually I kind of happened to apply McMaster. So I said 15 years, but I actually interned here. You round up something like 16 years. So probably like some of you on the call, you know, I didn’t really know much about McMaster-Carr, and sort of reached out about an internship opportunity.

And so I had the benefit of kind of getting a test drive, before I came back full time. And yeah. I don’t know that I knew that I really wanted to do software development. I didn’t always love my software classes in undergrad. But I think, I clearly loved my summer. And I think what I particularly enjoyed was just kind of the real life application of software as a solution and sort of solving business problems, using technology.

And that kind of led me to this career path of saying I had the taste of it that summer that, you know, I wanted to kind of work on larger business problems and use technology as the things to solve them. I’ll go into more details of sort of career progression, but pathwise, it was actually the summer at McMaster that said, you know what, this is actually something I’m really interested in and passionate about.

And that’s launched kind of my career in technology here. Okay. It’s wonderful. Well, some similarities there and definitely some differences in how you all kind of got into the fields that you’re currently in. And I’m wondering, I know that- tech in general can be a challenging field sometimes for women.

Have any of you experienced any challenges in regards to your gender, kind of in your path, getting into this field?

Yeah, mine kind of carries over from that internship. I said I was engineering undergrad. It was certainly, my experience it’s likely still true today, but engineering was very male dominated. So all of my classes, all of my majors- I say I kind of quickly formed a tight knit group of the couple other women in my classes.

And we all joined the society of women engineers. And we kind of became this like really close knit group. I found that that’s how I had to kinda like seek out and create that culture. And I think when I came, yeah, I didn’t really know what to expect when I came to McMaster. But I’d say like that is something that was a market change.

Just about sort of how we still have lots of male peers here but also many women. And I think it was more of this culture of kind of opinions were valued, learning above all else and sort of everyone was learning and it felt maybe less of an intimidating environment than I had really experienced throughout my career.

So that’s maybe one change that I say I’ve certainly experienced it. But that was a breath of fresh air kind of coming here. Anyone else with any challenges? It’s kind of similar Kiki. I feel like it can be challenging to feel like your ideas are heard or understood or taken seriously. And one thing that I really appreciate about McMaster is that we purposely hire people who don’t have this technology background necessarily because we think a diversity of opinions is going to lead to better customer outcomes and better outcomes for our culture.

And I think that thinking leads to feeling like everyone’s ideas are heard and valued. So I really appreciated that.

So for me, making the transition over to technology after years in management, I can’t really point to maybe a gender specific challenge. My management team was really supportive in helping me move over to software development. Actually, Kiki is one of the people who helped me with that.

So I still appreciate that Kiki. It’s been great. But for me, I was a little bit more worried about like fitting in than any concerns about challenges based on gender, especially because at this point I had already worked for this company for seven years and I hadn’t experienced any gender specific challenges. So I wasn’t expecting any and didn’t experience any. But even for fitting in, one thing that we do is we have a formal tech training for new folks where I got to learn and practice tech skills and also like build connections with the cohort of peers- which I think just really helped me feel like part of a team right away.

Also the leader of my tech training cohort, was a woman who’s really experienced in the department, great person to know, just a wonderful in general. It was also just nice, to see that identity reflected in leadership right out the gate. That’s awesome. I feel like it’s fairly rare. I think it’s getting more common, but it can be fairly rare from just my experience talking to women in the field.

And then back in the day, attempting to be a woman in tech, there definitely were some pretty sturdy challenges. So it’s wonderful to hear you all talking about how those challenges have sort of been helped out and assisted and sort of supported in your current positions at McMaster.

Heather, did you have anything you wanted to add to the challenges? Yeah, I actually just wanted to echo a little bit of Kiki’s sentiments that I had a similar experience. My programming classes were pretty much all, very male dominated. You know, you’d befriend the one to two other women in the classes and years later, we’re still actually very close.

We kind of have that wonderful common bond. And even jobs previously, I would find myself to be the only woman on the team. And that was one of the things that was attractive to me about McMaster in general was just the level of gender diversity that we have here. That we do have. We can always use more, right?

But we have a wonderful amount of women, very, very smart, capable, intelligent women in this department. And I feel very fortunate to work with them every day. And I think we have wonderfully supportive programs like our women in tech program that just help us all to bond together and create that wonderful group intimacy as well.

Awesome. And we do have a question in the Q&A. Alison asks, how do you recruit other women and diversity to you organization, particularly during a challenging talent market? And all of us who work even tangentially in talent understand that it’s a very challenging market right now. So any insight on that?

Yes. I say part of this is we’re trying to kind of find different techniques. So this is one of ’em, right? We want to engage and find women out there that are interested in technology and kind of tell about who we are. McMaster-Carr might not be a name that kind of comes to mind when you think of technology.

So we’re trying different techniques. We’re trying to sort of say like where society women engineers- like are there organizations out there that kind of have this sense of community that would make sense that we can kind of reach out to, and kind of learn a little bit about them.

Share a little bit about us. I’d also kind of point to Mary Grace, she said, we recognize that once you’re in the tech industry, as we’ve all said, like undergrad college they’s sort of already this kind of male gender dominated field. And so we do have another pipeline for hiring that

we know that there’s maybe more gender diversity sort of across other majors, across other areas of study. And so we also look at that as a source of bringing some diversity in. So we’ve got lots of different things that we’re trying to think about. But that’s one of the ones we say we benefit from just kind of good problem solvers as Mary Grace said.

And so we can kind of teach people technology, and that helps us kind of actually at the start kind of recruit a foundation to get more women sort of up in a pipeline throughout the organization. Yeah. I love that concept of teaching the technology kind of at the beginning of someone’s tenure.

What other ways have you all personally experienced support as a woman in tech, at your time at McMaster-Carr?

Others already started touching on one of them that I was going to talk about, which is women in tech at McMaster. So I would say we have a number of formal and informal ways for finding support here. Some of the formal paths are mentoring and women in tech. So our women in tech groups are formed at the beginning of the year.

I’ve been in ones from four people to eight people- approximate sizes. And they can be multiple genders. They can be just women and women identifying people. They can be to talk about current events and any sort of career progression topics. They can also be more technical focused. So we have a diversity of the groups that you can choose to join, to find whatever type of support you’re most interested in looking for.

And then I’ve had a great woman mentor for three years, all three years that I’ve been at McMaster. And maintaining those relationships as you rotate every year has been really helpful for me. And then also everyone has sort of mentioned just the informal relationships that form on your project teams, from your application teams, lots of different ways of building relationships informally as well.

Awesome. I love the mentorship aspect of that. I think that’s so important. And I think a lot of organizations don’t really have those options, those mentorship options at their companies or organizations. I think they can be amazing programs and really help with diversity of your organization as well and help with the tenure of diversity as well.

Tenure’s actually something I wanted to bring up a little bit because some of you have been at McMaster car for a very long time, especially in an e-commerce kind of tech space. Usually it’s like two, three years, people job hop here and there.

So I’d love to hear a little bit about why those of you who’ve been there for a bit, why you stayed and what you think McMaster-Carr’s doing right, as far as the impressive tenure that they seem to have.

I can start with my 15 year belt that I wear. Yeah. I think for me, what I really reflect on this is a question I get asked often, is that I’m continued to be challenged and I’ve continued to be learning. So I feel like it’s a culture where as soon as I kind of gain some understanding in one area, I have an opportunity to really explore another area of technology, another area of the business.

And I think when I reflect similar- I’ll talk a bit about kind of career progression at McMaster a little bit later. But there’s been several points in my career that would be, you know, outside world might be in question. Like should I you hit the couple year outta college or the grad school or other points in life that kind of make you reflect.

And I think in each of those phases, the culture we have here of just, there’s so many opportunities within our organization. And we support, we call like a Latice kind of approach where you can switch topics. You can switch technologies. It’s that growth in learning that keeps me interested.

I’ve never gotten bored. Could have been 16 years like, truly I’m not bored. So that’s a big thing. Yeah. That is very impressive. Yeah. That’s amazing. Anyone else? I guess if we’re going in tenure order, I would be next. I would definitely echo, there’s a lot of things that we do as a company.

So there’s a lot of opportunity to learn about new things. And I feel like I’ve been able to make an impact in a lot of different areas or roles or projects that I’ve had. And so that’s been continually rewarding, making an impact, continue to learn and grow. Like that’s something I really value that I’ve been able to find here for 10 years.

It’s also- it’s a good company that takes care of its people as well. And that’s something that’s valuable to me. Just the general support, the focus on work life balance, our emphasis on like- we call it people practices, with these expectations of making sure that it’s a good work environment like that stuff’s really important to me.

And I think that we do it well, and we’re continuing to look for ways to do that better. So that’s helped keep me here. I would also just want to give a shout out really to like all of my colleagues. So I’ve been in, I don’t even know 5, 6, 7 different departments in my time here.

And like very consistently, my colleagues at all levels have been wonderful to work with both just as people but as well as very competent, committed to high quality, like is it kind of people that you’re just energized to work with. And so I absolutely love that as well. And so that’s something that keeps me coming back, I guess.

Yeah. That’s huge as well. In any company, if you’re enjoying the people that you work with, that goes a long way.

So there was also another interesting question in the Q&A that I wanted to bring up. So speaking to the learning the tech skills- so for those women who learned tech skills on the job at McMaster, how do you navigate the balance of knowing you are competent while also respecting the additional experience your team members have, especially if you work in management, but there are generalists on your team who have more experience?

That’s a really interesting, complex question. If anyone wants to tackle it, I’d be interested to hear this as well. I think I’m a decent example of this. I only coded for about a year and a half and I’ve managed an engineering team for about a year now. So it is a really great question.

I think it all comes down in my mind to culture and also knowing what value you add on your team. So I’m somewhat technical. I built applications for a year in McMaster, like people for the most part to have developer experience before managing a developer team. So I can say, you know, this feature’s probably going to take about this long, but anywhere beyond that, I go to my lead technical experts and I ask them a lot of questions and I’m continuously interested in learning as well.

So as I learn about restful API design, I now learn some of those principles and I can sort of guide other engineers on the team at a high level for how to implement them. And yeah. It’s the culture of learning and teaching and then relying on those experts and having, like Kate said, that collaborative culture that lets you feel very comfortable to go ask any questions that you have in my mind.

Yeah, I would imagine that makes a big difference. I’ve worked in organizations that both, I felt like I couldn’t ask questions because that would show some weakness that could be exploited later that “she didn’t know this thing” right. And then I’ve also worked at places where my current position, questions are very welcomed and I never feel like anyone looks down on me for asking any questions.

It makes a really, really, really big difference on one’s ability to do their job really and do it well. So Mary Grace, I wanted to ask you a little bit about company culture at McMaster-Carr. So tell me about this- you all, tell me previously a little bit about this culture wheel, the tech

team came up with. Tell me what that is. Yeah. So a group of people in 2017 got together and said, we have a company culture, a department culture, it’s going to form whether we are intentional about forming that culture or whether it arises by chance. And so this group of people produced this thing we call the wheel here and it really is eight principles that we focus on as a company to inform our system’s great tech employer culture.

I have the eight pillars so that everyone can know what we focus on. So supportive leadership, empathy, innovative ideas, high quality results, teamwork and autonomy, learning and teaching, growth and openness with candors. So it’s a lot of words. But I’ve mostly wanted to share about how I’ve experienced those different eight principles that we focus on and how you can be sure that we focus on them as a company.

So a couple examples. I have one- the current team that I’m on as we did a norm setting conversation kicking off our project team, we went through and did a sticky board whiteboard exercise so that everyone could say, which of these principles really resonated with them. What types of practices do we want to form as a team to make sure we’re upholding them?

So just one example to focus on empathy building and teamwork- everyone on our team has at least monthly one-on-one conversations with each other. So we really feel like we’re a team at work. And that was an initiative that we make time for as a team. So that again, we’re upholding that great tech employer culture.

Another one is learning and teaching. So I mentioned that McMaster has this really generous tuition reimbursement program. So McMaster is very invested in making sure we learn and teach at work and have the resources to do so outside of work. So I worked full time. I got my MBA at Kellogg, because McMaster knew that I was interested in

developing business and leadership skills. Within the company, we rotate project teams on average once a year. So going back to the, how do you feel comfortable asking questions? Well, I’m probably thrown into a new tech stack or building a system for a new department once a year because we prioritize learning and teaching as a company

and everyone here does it. And then the last piece is sort of on the other side of the wheel are supportive leadership, empathy, and openness with candor. We’ve already talked about women in tech groups as a way that we focus on supportive leadership and empathy building, especially. We also do things like town halls here, where company leadership is making sure to share company initiatives and department initiatives and answering questions and addressing concerns.

And then we also have listening sessions where HR and department leaders will listen to the experience of people in the department across a variety of topics so that they know what’s going on. And so like Kate mentioned, we can continue to evolve our people practices. So it’s a lot of information, but that’s kind of the idea behind our great tech employer wheel.

Yeah, no, that all sounds really, really amazing. Thank you for going over that. And then Heather, we had talked a little bit about referring to sort of diverse career opportunities at McMaster. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? Sure. So when I was interviewing, one of the things that really stood out to me with all the people that I had interacted with was that there’s no one cookie cutter way to have a successful career at McMaster.

There are a lot of paths to being your best you and your best self here. And just kind of along the lines of what attracted me to tech that very much attracted me to McMaster that this is not a place where you come and you’re a certain level of developer for a certain amount of time

and then you move to the next, you move to the next. And everyone’s in these really rigid kind of silos of positions. You can raise your hand and say, “Hey, this thing that I heard about, I’m really interested in it. Is there some way that I can be involved?” I’ve been able to do that myself in several ways.

I joined a reliability team for SQL- on that team with Mary Grace. It’s an area that I was interested in and it came up earlier this year and I said, “Hey, I would love to gain more expertise in this area.” And I was kind of able to blaze my own path that way. That’s just been so important to me to be able to explore where I I want to explore and find some new interests and push myself to say, well, I think this is where my strengths are.

So maybe let’s kind of see how far I can push myself in that specific area. And I think we’re just so great about that- recognizing our teammates as individuals and everyone’s their own person and they bring their own mix of skills and strengths to the workplace and saying, “Hey, we’re all going to help support you for who you are and you can kind of mold your experience to really what you want it to be.”

And I think honestly, that’s- I mean, I’ve only been here about a year, but I think that’s one of the reasons probably why people stay so long. And so I have to stay so long. You’re constantly challenged and engaged and yeah. I think it’s wonderful. You never really know what’s ahead of you and I think that’s really exciting, so. Awesome. Kate, question for you. We’ve been talking a lot about support so far in this panel, which I think is really, really wonderful. So what is the support like at McMaster, for technical folks who have a specific technical goal that they want to achieve?

We’ve talked a little bit about it, but I really want to kind of dig into some more details of how that works. Yeah. Sure. So for me, I can talk about some of my most recent technical goals. For the past year or two, I’ve really wanted to become a cutting edge dot net expert. C sharp. That’s a technology that we work with a lot here and I also wanted to build out my software design and architecture skills.

So those are some high level goals for me. And the kind of support that I was looking for was to work with someone who already had these skills that I could learn from, but would also give me space to try things and learn and kind of figure stuff out for myself. And so about a year ago, I had requested to work with a particular architect in the department that I respected and who could provide that experience for me.

And that is where I ended up. So I got the support of getting lined up with this opportunity to be able to do these things. And so right now, on my current team, I’m responsible for the technical design of a system that lets our internal users manage the data that powers our website search and the software that takes the data, makes it available to the website.

And so that’s been a nice challenge for me that aligns with my goals. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to get into advanced features. I’ve gotten at five and now six, as well as how to select the architectural characteristics that the system is going to need and translate that into technical designs for my team.

So I’ve gotten to explore that but I also have people around me who will support when we’re in the areas where I still need to learn a little better. I have someone to kind of bounce those ideas off of. I feel like for me, with that whole setup and some of the other kinds of support we’ve talked about as well, mentoring and so on. Like, I feel like in the last 12 months, I’ve probably learned more than any other time in my career, which has been really great.

That’s amazing. That’s amazing. I have a question for Kiki, but before I get into that question, I kind of want to talk a little bit more about the mentorship program just cause I’m really curious about that and how that works. I’m a big proponent of those when I try to consult with clients who are maybe having issues getting applicants in the door or they’re having issues diversifying their workforce, and a really big point of establishing some sort of mentorship program.

Any one of you who wants to speak on it? Tell me a little bit more details on how that works. I can share. I have a mentor and two mentees this year. You fill out a survey and we actually, this year sort of updated our process and you fill out a survey, both as someone who wants to be a mentor and someone who is a mentee to be better match the skills. And so you can kind of request, do I care about the gender of my mentor?

We prioritized across six different skill sets, I think. Things like, I want to learn about career progression. I want to learn about time management. I want to learn technical skills, those sorts of topics to help the mentoring team match you and then you get paired. And then you’re usually in that relationship for a year.

But like I mentioned earlier, I’ve continued my relationship with all of my mentors far beyond that. And frequently I’m talking to my old mentees as well. And most of the time I’ve focused on career progression and specific skills that I want to learn that have come up on my project teams, less on the technical side, just because of the career track that I was interested in.

And they’ve been really helpful. I’ve talked about school and time management and prioritization and how to use scope, ambiguous feature requests and those sorts of topics. So I tend to meet once a month, but always open for more meetings and yeah. It’s been really great for me. That’s awesome.

And how many of you have been a part of the membership program in your tenure so far?

Amazing. Amazing. What has been the most beneficial aspect of that for you, personally? Professionally. One benefit for me specifically as being a newer employee who onboarded during COVID when we were totally remote. It’s given me another outlet to meet someone who is not on my team, and to just kind of broaden my own network within the systems department.

It’s helped not only just on that kind of personal, professional level, just getting to talk out, work stuff or just being a person in the workplace together. But it’s also helped for very specific things as well saying, “Oh, you know, I’m really, really struggling with this one thing” and they say, “Hey, I’ve got a person on my team who knows something about that.

Let me put you in touch.” So it’s really been helpful for me to have that relationship before we’ve recently started going back into the office a little bit, but prior to that, it’s whoever ended up in a zoom room that I got invited to. Those were the people that I knew.

So it’s been a really great connection point for me to get to know some others and on different levels as well. Nice. Anyone else? Your favorite aspect or something that was really impactful for you? Something that I like and I’ve had a mentor every year since I’ve been in systems.

I like that it’s flexible in a way. So like whatever you kind of need at a particular point in your career, like you can pick something that aligns with that. So at first it was helping me get settled and maybe getting a second opinion on some simple features. And then okay, now I’m ready to learn a particular technology.

Like I wanted to learn about React- I could get a mentor for that. Moving on, as I learned more, I wanted to learn more about software architecture. So I worked with someone on that. And like this year I actually requested a non-technical mentor because I wanted to be better at really describing my work to stakeholders and just coming across as very effective in those meetings.

And so that’s something that I can evolve. And so I like that it’s flexible enough that I can match what I need with where I’m at. I love that. That’s awesome. So Kiki, I wanted to ask you- so we had talked already a little bit about in particular your career progression, but I wanted to hear a little bit more about that.

So what has career progression been like for you in your tenure at McMaster? Yeah. So I feel like I keep saying that I was an intern , as I mentioned, I was an intern. And when I came, I was actually writing mainframe software. So Cobal programming if you’re familiar with it. But Cobal is a powerful technology tool that operates parts of our business, our warehouse and stuff.

So that was sort of the summer where I realized I enjoyed using software to solve problems. And so when I came back full time, I actually already got the opportunity to kind of switch into a new technology. So they put me sort of in web technologies. I graduated, I came back full time and I had, there’s a long runway of things to learn there.

And so I spent several years sort of building out that foundation as a software developer, both front end technologies on the web, backend technologies, dot net technologies and really truly like contributing as a software engineer building features. All the kind of core principles of what we do to kind of create solutions.

And then I think after a few years, after kind of building that out, I realized that I enjoyed the technology, but I also have a lot of interest in what we work on and why we work on it and how we prioritize that work. And so we have several paths here within systems, within our systems department, and we have sort of a project management path and kind of a technical path.

And as I just said earlier, we view it as a Latice or sort of once you go on one path, you’re not stuck in that path. You can certainly cross over. For me, I was really interested in that project management side of things. And so I got an opportunity a couple years in to sort of start managing a project

and that kind of really helped me like learn all different sides of the work that I was doing, right. Like Mary Grace said, how do you estimate how long this is going to get done? Like, how do you divide up the work? How do you kind of organize it in a way for your team? There was a question earlier, I think from the panel of like what does it mean to kind of be in management and have folks who probably have more experience than you.

And that’s where I learned a lot about myself and I feel like this is where support from McMaster was huge. As a project manager, I also kind of jumped projects and technology. So I actually had an opportunity to kind of work on infrastructure and I was managing a team of folks who built our servers, manage our networks.

And I’d never done that, right? Like I was a software engineer and so one of the things that we also set as a principal or, one of our guiding compass ideas is radical candor and it was truly one where they’re like, Kiki, we want you to be a project manager kind of managing sort of this infrastructure team.

And it was a very comfortable place where it’s like you know I know nothing about infrastructure, right. And everyone’s like, yeah, we know that. But you also, you have all these other skills that you’ve learned as a project manager. We want you to bring that to that area. And so I think it certainly has been true for me and many years on this call and the culture at McMaster is just kind of giving me that vote of confidence and kind of the support that I needed.

I would’ve never self-selected some of these project manager roles. But it was sort of, some of my career has been me advocating, this is something I’m really interested in. And some of it has been, hey, the company advocating on my behalf of this is really going to help you to kind of build out this process of technology and see how, not just the software side of things, but the infrastructure side of things.

So I spent several years as a project manager doing, like I said, kind of on different topics and different technologies. I managed our iPad app. So I went from managing a software project to managing an infrastructure project, to managing an iPad app. I’ve never written code in iOS. And so, you really sort of build up a lot of different skills and you learn a lot about what it means to sort of manage technology, ask good questions, help organize the work.

And I mean, the support to kind of jump each of those roles was unmatched. So I think, you know, me being able to have the support of being able to say, everyone in the room here knows that I I’ve never developed in this and we’re all good moving forward. Being able to have those conversations has been essential.

I said like throughout my career, some of it is me advocating, this is something I’m interested in. Some of this has been the company here’s saying like, here’s a really good opportunity that we think is going to help grow and develop you and sort of aligns with your career goals. I continue to say, I really enjoy project management and I have an interest in kind of even thinking more broadly.

So strategically, what types of work do we want to take on as an organization that sort of uses technology to set us apart sort of in the industry? And I continued to sort of have an appetite to tackle sort of the broader problems and that’s where after like six or seven years, I kind of realized that I was

curious about other parts of the business. So technology in our systems department is a super powerful, important area that is a strategic area but there are other parts to the company that we use. And they said, if I want to kind of continue to develop and build out how we think about work and who we are as a business,

it’s important for me to see another part of the business. And so I did. I kind of had a conversation with my manager and my many, many mentees formal and informal, and ultimately said, you know what? It’s actually a good time to shift away from managing technology projects and manage an operation.

And so in our company, there’s many different operations. We sell products, we have a warehouse, we have a warehouse operation, we have sales, we have a sales operation. But I managed within our publishing operation. So I went and it was three years of me kind of really focusing on what does it mean to manage people, develop people?

What does it mean to kind of organize people to create high quality work? And what does it look like to set up good processes and good procedures? And I was able to again, have that support in all of this. Like Mary Grace said, I finished a degree and sort I finished my MBA and I was asking these big questions and it was like, I had this realization that I can kind of continue to build out those things I’m interested in

and those skill set within McMaster-Carr. Like there are opportunities. Like it’s not- my path is not uncommon, right? There’s an interesting opportunity within systems. There’s an interesting opportunity outside of systems. All of those are sort of available. So yeah, I guess I had my first child when I was in that role.

And I kind of came back. As I did that, I said there’s a conversation with my manager and they said, “Think about where do you want to come back to? You’ve been in this role for a couple years,

like, what’s something of interest?” And I said, I’ve been in this other part of the business, I’ve learned a lot, but I have an interest in kind of coming back to technology. So we said, you know, we had kind of a plan and a conversation around, okay, that’s going to be a good next move. And I think the company, again, really was kind of advocating on my behalf to kind of, especially after sort of parental leave, like bring me back to some place that is a place I’m interested in going and a place that can kind of come back and contribute quickly after being out for five or six months.

So that was really important to me. And I came back, so I came back to systems. I said my 15 years, I’ve mostly been in systems. And since then, I’ve kind of actually been able to bring my publishing experience and knowledge to systems because now we have sort of systems that we’re building that actually we’re building for our publishing department.

And so it gave me kind of broader context, the work we do within our systems department and kind of ultimately kind of advanced making director in the department. But yeah., support and kind of votes of confidence and advocacy, both on my behalf and the company since been essential to my career path, and that’s kind of the norm that the culture here. That’s amazing. That combination that you talked about of having the room and being encouraged to be a self advocate and then also having coworkers, managers, leadership, what have you, at also advocating for you?

It’s like such, like that’s such a recipe for success for the employee success, for the organization on so many levels in so many different ways. Like just that combination of things that’s really wonderful. I do want to ask each one of you and I know this is maybe kind of a silly question, but what’s your favorite thing about working at McMaster-Carr?

I can never answer this question because I answer like four things. I’m going to pick one. One is fine. You can do four. I’ll pick one that I don’t think anyone else is gonna pick because Kate’s going to say our coworkers. For me, it’s, if I could describe the day to day role that I would want at a different company, it would be the same thing I do here every day.

And so I get to manage people, I get to manage technical projects, I get to manage the backlog, I get to design the features. I don’t do it all at once. Sometimes my team does it. But I can fill gaps on the team where it makes sense and I get to do an accumulation of those things, which I just really, really enjoy.

Awesome. Awesome. That sounds lovely. Anyone else? I think one of my favorite things is kind of to one of Mary Grace’s points earlier about our great tech employer wheel, the teaching and the learning that I mentioned earlier that the learning is kind of what drew me in and

the fact that we have this very pervasive spirit of teaching and learning through the whole department. Every single person I have ever interacted with over the last year that, I’ve said, oh, this might be a dumb question. And then they’re no, no, no, no, no. And everyone has been so just gracious and kind, and patient

and let me ask absolutely any off the wall thing and has been so great about sharing their knowledge. And then it’s been exciting for me then after a while I started getting asked questions about something and I got to in turn, share my expertise. And that made me so excited for it to come full circle.

And I feel like we’re kind of all in that circle all the time. We’re all learning something, but we’re also sharing something and it feeds on itself in a wonderful way. I think that’s one of my absolute favorite things about working here.

The student has become the master kind of a feel. Who becomes a student who becomes the master. Right and then it keeps going. Yeah. Awesome. Yeah. All right. So yeah, Mary Grace knows me. Absolutely I would say to people, but I could take it a step further than that. So something in particular I’ve definitely been enjoying here is watching folks on my team support each other and learn and grow.

A lot of people join us, you know, right out of school or don’t have a bunch of technical experience. And so seeing somebody kind of go from like, they can only do the very small features to taking on bigger things, shedding direction, really being able to achieve a lot individually

but then also as a team. You’ve got work in front of you and there’s always these pieces where you’re like, wow, gosh. I’m not really sure you know how we’re going to do this. This seems like such a big problem. And then you get to this inflection point where you’re like no, actually based on every contribution of the team members we really are able to get through this.

And on our current project we’re working on, we’re kind of hitting one of those- there’s some pretty fun tech that we’re looking to retire and move into to a new system. And we just had a demo day earlier today and we were like, yeah we’re like 85% of the way through this and we all kind of banded together and we were able to solve this really tricky thing. And it was such a great feeling.

Yeah, I’d echo those. People always just kind of top of my mind when I get asked that question and it is true. I remember in my first week being in a kind of, just attending a meeting just to kind of be there and learn, and someone was like well, Kiki, what do you think?

And I was like why are they asking me? Why are they asking me this? I don’t know, anything. So I just sort of like shared my opinion. They we’re like like, huh, we haven’t really thought about it that way. And I feel like that sort of has been true throughout my career of just the people and the learning. The thing that I would add on which sort of I touched on earlier is just not being bored.

Like I think Kate kind of commented we’re working on exciting, cool, innovative stuff. We’re a hundred plus year old company, but we’re always trying to kind of strategically advance and sort of maybe not totally reinvent who we are but kind of reimagine like who we are, how do we adapt sort of as, as the world around us adapts.

And I think we get with the benefit of being able to evolve and sort of say like, what’s the right answer, you know? Like certainly within systems we’re not working for clients. We’re working for ourselves and like how do we continue to kind of be the best and kind of come up with really cool, innovative solutions that we have the luxury of kind of the right people and the right resources to be able to try and solve.

Well, dare I say, this chat has been inspirational. That’s probably not even too much of an exaggeration. It’s been really lovely hearing all of your takes on your time at McMaster and sort of how your career has changed and evolved. Just one thing that you had said just now Kiki, that kind of perked, my interest. Talking about McMaster being a hundred year old company and yet not being afraid to adapt and change and evolve. Oftentimes you see the nimble adaptiveness in like maybe startups or like younger companies.

And then oftentimes those companies that have been there for a very long time are kind of stuck in their ways and stuck in the mud. And they’re like, this is how we do things, we don’t change. And the fact that your organization has not doubled down on old ways of doing things is I think probably a huge part of your success.

Wonderful. Well, we’re going to kind of open it up for any questions. If anyone has any questions for any of the panelists, feel free to put those in the Q&A portion, and we would be happy to answer any questions.

We did have Steven ask a question. As a recruiter, Steven’s working to build a more gender diverse team, but there’s an issue with most of the applicants and sourced candidates tend to be male. Does anyone have- I know you all aren’t necessarily in recruiting specifically, but anything that you know of that your teams have done or things that you’ve seen be good ways of kind of dealing with those challenges?

One one thought I have and no, Steven, I’m not sure exactly how your organization is set up but something that I think has worked well for us is to really, you know, look at different backgrounds. So I think there’s a lot of people out there who have a passion for technology and the interest and motivation to be great at it

but maybe they didn’t decide to be CS majors or work as software engineers. This describes me for example. So I moved over here from another area of the business. And so I was able to settle in a little bit faster because I have a pretty good understanding of McMaster-Carr and our business.

And then I got the support to build the technical skills. And for us, we have a robust training program. So we can find folks like this and help them move over to software engineering. But that might help you find some of the background that you weren’t necessarily finding when you’re looking at places you’re currently looking.

Yeah. And one another thing that I think is always helpful is having some sort of mentorship or not even an internship, but like an apprenticeship kind of a situation, at an organization can really help get folks in the door who may not have had the experience because it is a little bit newer that there are more women and more diverse folks in tech.

So a lot of times they don’t have that breadth of experience that might come with someone who’s more traditionally seen in that role. But having some avenues for them so that they can learn on the job a little bit, is a huge way of being able to do that.

Another question. So this attendee is asking, what are some key initiatives to which new engineers could contribute? Is there a skillset you find valuable?

I feel like I’m looking at Heather’s team, Kate’s team and my team and all of Kiki teams. We’re all working on this like content strategy side of the department at the moment. So we’re really thinking about, Kate mentioned this product information, data system that we’re working on. We’re also on different teams, but they’re all kind of coming together to form all of the data and the content that you see on our website.

So that is a huge portion of our department right now, focused over there. In terms of skills, really I, for me, it comes down to critical thinking and asking good questions because that’s all that I want for my engineers. I want them to understand a business need, ask a lot of questions and help inform the features that they’re building.

So that’s one of my favorite parts. That was one of my favorite parts of being an engineer, getting to participate in this like full stack, but also from initial conception of the feature through to testing it and implementing it and rolling it out. And then supporting the system once it exists.

So really looking for all skill sets in that area. And like Kate said, we look for people with diverse backgrounds because we’re confident that if you have those critical thinking and question asking skills, you’ll be able to learn the rest of the, any skills that your team may need that you don’t quite have yet.

That’s a wonderful answer. Excellent. I don’t see any other questions in the queue. So this might be a good time to wrap up our event. I just wanted to thank you all panelists for joining us today. It was really a pleasure to speak with each and every one of you and hear your experience and kind of get to know you all a little bit better. And just wanted to thank the audience for joining us.

I hope you enjoyed the like McMaster-Carr Women in Tech panel, and please feel free to reach out with any questions you might have. And I hope everyone has a wonderful rest of your week. Thank you so much.

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