The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 month ago

Why Is Manufacturing Still Dominated by Men? w/ Lesley Ledwell Dukelow


There is no reason manufacturing needs to be dominated by men — even if it, historically, always was.

Yet today, as other sectors become more representative, one look around most manufacturing sites and you’ll notice the lack of women immediately. 

Why are we lagging behind? And more importantly, what can we do about it?

My guest today, Lesley Ledwell Dukelow , Company President at Ledwell, is a 4th-generation female leader of a family-owned manufacturing business and she has some ideas about how we can tackle the gender gap in manufacturing.

In this episode, we discuss:

-Supply chain issues in the wake of COVID

-Why the labor shortage demands we hire from more underrepresented groups, including women

-Why women are less represented in manufacturing and what we can do about it

To ensure that you never miss an episode of The Manufacturing Executive, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify.

So I have three girls: Six year old andthen twenty four year olds and I'm trying to do a better job of bringingthem around in showing up to have the each one individually said somethinglike mom were all the girls and I was like I was trying to point out. Youknow that the handful that we have I was embarrassed to Mi. I was likeyou're right. I got to get more females in this bishness welcome to the manufacturing executivepodcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that aredriving midsize manufacturers forward here. You'll discover new insights frompassionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share abouttheir successes and struggles and you'll learn from B to B sales andmarketing experts about how to apply actionable business developmentstrategies inside your business. Let's get into the show, welcome to another episode of theManufacturing Executive Podcast, I'm Joe Sullivan your host and a Co founderof the Industrial Marketing Agency guerilla. Seventy six something aboutthe word manufacturing conjures: Masculine images, big heavy metalmachinery, tough guys with the equally big arms, and when you look around thetypical manufacturing facility from the shop floor to the board room. Frankly,a lot of this kind of holds up, but why? Just because that's how it's alwaysbeen. I guess today is a fourth generation female leader of a familyowned manufacturing business as the president of this organization and amother of three girls. She'll tell you why it's more important right now thanever before that we changed the perception of manufacturing as a placefor men alone and start opening the doors for women in this space. Let metake a moment to introduce her Leslie Ledwell Dukala is a native of Texarkana,Texas and president of Ledwell and son enterprises following and her fatherand grandfather's footsteps establish one HOUSN, nine hundred and forty sixled well manufactures services and distributes truck bodies and trailersthroughout the country. Today, Ledwell has grown to more than five hundredteam members who serve customers and businesses of all sizes in a variety ofindustries, from construction to vacuum. To Agriculture, led will's mission isto manufacture top quality equipment that is efficient, reliable andcustomized exactly to the customers, needs Leslie earned an undergraduatedegree from Duke University and an MBA from the University of Texas in twothousand and five Leslie went to work at Ledwell where she worked in salesoperations and business development before becoming president in twothousand and fourteen. She is the first woman to serve as president of thecompany and an advocate for diversity in the manufacturing industry. Lesliecurrently serves on the Texas Business Leadership Council, Texarcana CollegeBoard of Trustees, Texas, a M University Texarcana Foundation, Boardand leadership. Texarcana board buzzy is also very involved in the ArkansasTexas regional economic development initiative puzzle. Welcome to the showthanks, Yo really happy to be e awesome. What's good to have you so leslie. Italked to a number of second and third generation leaders of family ownedmanufacturing businesses, but you are a fourth generation leader which ispretty cool. I was curious if you could kind of start things out by telling usa little bit about how Ledwell came to be absolutely so. My grandfather was inWorld War Two and when he came back from overseas from England, he and Tadstarted the company and they actually started it in North East, Texas, biglumber area, and they started it by traveling down to Houston and bringinglumber for all the GIS building the houses in Houston and then prettyquickly. People around the text can a start saying: Hey. We you build withthe swimmer you do we build some racks on the back of the pickup trucks andthey moved to steel. Then it was kind of a fluid whenever anyone asked justbuilt more equipment, truck bodies, trailers and that's how it's worked-The last seventy five years we've had the customers come to us and say: Canyou help us and we make it happen, it's...

...pretty cool. I love these stories.Where you know you look at what you were physically doing and manufacturingand selling today, and then you look at the roots and there's a very clearconnection here, but you think of just how different it is and it emerged fromjust a somebody asking a question: Can you make me this thing and then youknow you are many. Many decades later with just ayou know, a huge successful business, it's passed through four generations,it's pretty cool. I love hearing those stories yeah it's! I hope that we havekept that well. I know we have kept that core because part of it's just theentrepreneur spirit and it's wanting to the hardest thing for generation wises.I think they hope I do completely an cashion for the business is how youtake it from the moment pop and that feeling of the family, rolling togetherand just cheap that feeling, as you continue to grow, because what we wantis our people to be bought in and be a huge Parto of what we're doing and tomake that happen. While you know getting the processes and systems andyou got to get more corporate as you get bigger and just there's thistension there, making sure that you know we're thoughtful enough to tothread that needle it's one of the hardest things to do or that I thinkabout the most David Day yeah. I bet that there's just a lot of challengesthat that come with that because it's you know on one hand it's like yoursuccess has probably come from having these. You know really closely knitcustomer relationships and a tightly knit team that you know from feels alot like a family. I can understand that and yet, at the same time, you'retrying to grow you're trying you need to remain profitable. You know newopportunities come up like. What's that been like trying to manage all that,and you know I know you came into you've, been in the family business.Obviously it's been in your family business. You've, probably known ityour whole life. To some extent you came into it more. You know when youradult life, but what's that been like trying to maintain that and like what,if some of the challenges been, that you've had to deal with sure absolutelyyou know the work force as far as you know, since the beginning that I havebeen that I been aware, if that is ten main conversation, every generation islike you know, these new kids coming on are these new kids, and this is youknow to Inot twenty years ago to talking about the new kids coming in.So it's making sure that culture that the way Y do it if manifests down andnot everyone that comes to work it like well, is really, you know, bleeds letwell you've got it. You got to find those people you've got to find theones that I that want to work that has integrity that have is focused on eachother. An I o is on the customer, so that is they constant. You know we do alot of apprentise work. We do a lot of conversations and communicating aboutit, but if you can find those people thatthat fit and work than a lot of the rest of it becomes easy because they're,the ones that kind of shepard you in and then all you have to do as a leaderis- is listening. When they've got the good ideas and check in on them, I meanone thing that dad in that still really vole my company as we go around andwe're lucky that we're able to have the majority about people are based inTexican an this plan to print of a plan and each day we go around and stay hidto every person. So it's really the most important thing. I do every day.It's what I make sure that I get done before all the rest of the stuff isbecause, if there's an issue, if they've got a problem with their kid orif they're having trouble or getting something done, if I can help solvethat worn, then that means they can focus on their job and they can makelike well work better that day and then they're not worried about the outsideof the world, and I mean it's the same thing with an that's what mygrandfather did my dad. I mean it's that being open to communication withyour people. I think it's the most important thing: we're always had doorsopen all the time, some tones, there's a line, people out there, but gettingthat information as ideas, because they're the ones that are experts theredoing their job and telling me hey. Have you thought of this or hey? Can wedo that? Then they have the owner, show...

...and they're the ones making us a bettercompany. I think those are some really good points. there. I've been corunning my business for about fifteen years and you know in the earliestyears. You know it was my business partner, John and myself, and then wesort of a slowly grown to or twenty one people now. But you know somewherearound, you know having ten twelve fifteen people somewhere in that rangewhen all of a sudden like we had to start letting go of things and we hadto put a lot more trust in people and now it's really like any time. I get afeedback from a customer or something, and they don't even mention me or Johnor something we did it's all about. You know the team, like that's the stuff.That makes me really proud, because you have like these leaders that start toemerge and you give them more responsibilities. You just kind of letthem do their thing and then I love the way that you actually walk the hallsand you go talk to people and keep that human human connection, because I thinkit's, I think it's easy to lose side at that, and you know you just you kind ofget caught up in your own job and the support and nurturing of the team is,is just such a critical thing that I think is easy to overlook yeah andthat's another part that you know they see you out there. You see what they'reworking on you ask home questions if they're doing a good job, or maybetheir supervisor mentioned something you can give them a genuine complimentabout something, and that goes so far. It's like hey. They recognized my valueand the other thing that I start during the past few years, I'm not great at it,but at least a couple days a week I try to hit. I try to call three to five ofour customers and you know I'm talking to some of the bigger customersfrequently, but this will be. You know I got a list of who we sold to the lastsix months or a year I reach out to them, and so that's when I'm caring onthe other side, will our people and how our selves team are service, team orparts there's interacting with customer. I'm also hearing stories about howthey're using our equipment, what the issues might be what's happening in theworld it just it feels like Itt connects me to all of the all thedifferent levels and all the different industries, because we sell fromeveryone to the you know: farmer, down the street with one o these equipmentto these multinational ginormous company. You kind of got to have atouch with everyone to make sure you're not so far out set the balance. I thinkthat's really smart and I imagine it just goes a long way, even a fiveminute conversation just hearing from the President of the company right forthem to hear to just know your cat, you care, and you understand, what's goingon and you're involved and you're seeking out their opinion because itmatters it's probably really impactful. We want to make sure they're happy, Imean you know if they're not happy and we're not going to keep going, but yeahand- and it makes our selves team, especially you now the ones that areout in the field. They know that that I'm aware of what'shappening and an their their customers get a chance to brag on them. It justyou know it's another far that communication that culture, that's socritical, it's great! Let's talk about supply chain for a minute. Obviouslyit's been a wild year and a half year and a half. I should say at this pointprobably on that front, and I know you and I were chatting about that a littlebit when we were prepping for this. This conversation, it's I was justactually you know phrase uppish more in the last year than I ever had my lifecombined. It has been a beast, and I thought last year was or anywise Goviwas, was brutal and just making sure people are safe and make sure you'redoing the right things and still keep the company going, but this year hasbeen, unlike in the other, because, oh sudden, we have the work and people wewant to get it done, and we just it's the parts and the pieces every day.It's a new issue. It's a new part to put out with a part of piece you guysas soon to be there and then all of a sudden, it's not, andthen plus you got the inflation built in it. You know: We've got ten twentythirty percent on each thing that we're purchasing so trying to manage tide andmaintain some form of probability has...

...been the biggest thing I've ever faced asfar as that management Al- and I don't know that it's going to go away in yourteacher, so we we've succeeded in that. We are still putting out and stilldoing what we can just by maintaining those types and their relationships andand doing what we say, we're going to do and communicate with their customerswith this is information we have right now. We know it's painful. This is whatwe know and we're going to keep telling me what we know when we it- and youknow we're not going to try to do anything silly we're going to do itwith integrity. Everything do like. We always do so. It's that we also haveyou know: We've been around forever and we've had a lot of these relationships,so you get the respect of them and they're trying to, but you first butand everyone's in the same boat. It's not like we're special, so they theyunderstand what we are. It's just. Oh, my goodness, we've brought stuff inhouse. We we got really creative. You know, we've got a bibles engineeringteam that can kind of turn on a dime. So that's help when you have to revisitthe situation, but I don't know Joe. I mean it's, it's not a fun position tobe in one that we have it. We have a person like en at before. Now I don't envy people in newsituation or that of many of my clients who are dealing with raw materials, andyou know a physical product. Frankly, you know I'm in the informationbusiness as a marketing consultant and agency, essentially so kind of adifferent world for me, but this is part of everybody's world that I'mtalking to so it's probably nice therapy to just for other manufacturersto hear you talk about this, and here you know like hey, we're all facingthis and like a please reach out anyway. He has a brilliant solve for thisproblem, but a yeah we haven't, we haven't gotten there yet yeah I mean Ihaven't heard one yet, but you know I'm hearing a lot of things like well,second, sourcing, where we can like just setting expectations withcustomers and maintaining open dialogue. Like you just touched on, you know insome cases it's eating. You know it's just lower margins like as prices inplate, but you know it's it's a challenge. It's not like. There's somesome magic bullet out there right right, and I think we all I mean. Maybe thisneeded to happen- maybe the little correction as far as we had gotten sothen with ours to ply chains a lot, the country of the world, and so all of asudden with the microchips everything it's like a wait. Perhaps week, youknow the whole restoring of man exacting back to the USDA. I think partof it. I mean it's all part of the same kind of big ball that we're trying toon wine and figure out better ways to do this, because it's never hard tohave more out there building when you need build- and I think this has been alittle bit of a slap in the face of hey- we need to we think in the betterSerintha what it means for US individually, businesses and as acountry yeah. I agree and Yeah I've heard heard a lot of that too, like Ihad Harry Moser on the show a couple months ago, who leads the resortinginitiative and he had a a lot of really smart insights about. You know thetrend that was already starting to happen and then Ovid, really just sortof you know, got that ball rolling even faster. You know the the labor shortage,of course, and you know the idea of where can we find other labor? And Ithink that's probably a good lead into my next question. Frankly, for you, youknow laze. I recently did an episode done the show with Andrew Crow andJustin Sherman, who are too really incredible social entrepreneurs who arereally throwing all their energy to promoting and facilitating the adoptionof diversity and inclusion in the manufacturing sector and in theirepisode they tackled that from a whole variety of angles. It was about ourlong episode and they talked about diversity and inclusion from thestandpoint of race and gender and sexual orientation and young versus old,like they hit it from a variety of angles, had a lot of really good thingsto say, and I love what they're doing there. I'm very curious to hear you asa woman leading a manufacturing...

...organization. I want to hear what youhave to say to the manufacturing world about bringing more women into theindustrial sector, both in leadership and scold labor roles yeah. So I havelistened to and and Justine PICAS and it was. I didn't disagree with anythingthey said I mean they were. They were right on the money and it wasinteresting because you know to do all that we're trying to do to resort togrow to we have all these businesses. It are also many bacton work. We can'tdiscount gender, wise half the population and I was trying to he hearddifferent numbers, but I think it's somewhere in the high teens percentageof women or percent of people in manufacturing, her women and that'sjust kind of a silly there's. We are missing until the you know the covedyear, every conversation I I with manufacture other people every time aninitiate and a project. The main topic was work force. How do we get morepeople into this business? And, frankly, maybe facturan has been it's just beenhidden for so long. I mean when I was growing up or in the S and S it wassuch I push for four year, good, a for your college for your college for itslike the whole country side, the so I need to do and we disregarded potaisregarded manufacturing what a great living you can make for yourself andyour family in this world, and we need to start younger. I mean we weren'tAnserini as locally with the local community college. You have a workforce program, we do a welding to prentiships and there's a fantasticdemo, loving instructor that we work with, but they are still not just saw something like a basically themajority of our people, that are the jobs that we need are welters, somemachinist stainers, but the majority for the welding profession. It'ssomething like the need goes at four percent a year and the people goinginto the goes down seven per year. So there's this massive gap that justkeeps getting bigger and bigger, and if we don't have, if we're not inclusiveenough to see all those extra people out there into manufacturing world thatwe kind of lost the game before we can start playing it. So there's a lot ofwork two times there's a lot of I mean with Andrew and just in there the ideasthey have projects are doing, and this is happening all over the place.There's small, there's big, there's all sorts of initiatives that it's got hisstart younger. It's got to start just the realization that I mean, franklyhow cool is manufacturing you get to take parts and pieces, something inyour brain. You want to create you build it front of heart and pieces intoa product that someone needs to do their job. I mean there's not a quarterindustry other my opinion and that's what we need to promote and present tothese to these middle schoolers or maybe even younger. Like Hey, you don'thave to coin to retail, you have to or there's so much cool stuff happeningthat you don't even know about and start fall because we haven't beensharing it. So I have three girls, six year old and then twen four year oldsand I'm trying to do a better job of bringing them around. I'm showing up tohave each one individually said so then, like mom were all the girls, and I waslike I was trying to point out. You know that the handful that we have Iwas embarrassed to I was like you're right. I got to get more females inthis bisness and it wasn't even something I thought about growing at,but I love it they're thinking about it so young and I think it's a generationship we're going to get there. We just have to work a little harder at it. Yeah I meanI imagine that factory jobs or even leadership jobs, probably inmanufacturing, is like it had a very masculine sort of. It's always beenthat way right, so that the change has to start somewhere now's. The time Ican't tell you how many tents up put in the room that the beyond email that men,the majority of the time and it's it's a good. You know I hate to get all, butit's a good industry. Good Salt Tear people, you know it is it's. You workhard. You give the skill set, you can grow in your profession. You grow anwhat your abilities are. It's a great... to be an we just for some reason Ikept to tired. Is there any you know you've kind of started? I think hittingon this message already, but in anything you have to say to young womenout there about possibilities for a career and manufacturing, especiallyjust kind of given what you've been able to do with yours? Ah, that's I Ijust I it doesn't matter what your still said is you? Can you can findyour spot? I mean if you want to work with your hands. If you are good withnumbers, if you can sell anything in that real and to be there right now, itis because you are one of you know a few. You get more attention,so you can maybe rise up faster or you can be heard better because it's like,oh, yes, there's a female in my world where, I'm always being you know, minI'm Goin to listen to it. If she knows what she's saying well, well, Dan,let's work with it. Let's do something! So that's a lot also. It is when youhave an a petition erect, but when you can go into something and you can growyour skills and you can collaborate with teams and you can create. It justleaves that confidence in that's offstage. What your ability to do itgrows as you grow as a person in your career, great message busy. Is thereanything that I did not ask you about that you'd like to be able to touch onstill? No just that I growing up. I did to you, know filing, and I answer thephones and I think after senior of high school is than two months trying to cocall this massive list we had and selling movies to the cootes, and itwasn't until I ended up after college. I got my CD, so I could deliver ourproducts, and so I can burn some money to teach school abroad anyway. The bunsI didn't know about led well and I had grown up in thecompany. I didn't really understand what all we did until I was in atseeing at first hand thinking wow. This is a vibrant, cool, thriving fineculture and company, and I can really help it Grob. So as far as all theseother people coming in that way is manufacturing community are going toneed. We have to bring them in to show them, because it's you know it's somuch easier to understand what you're getting into our. What's out there, ifyou kids, to get, we do tours all the time with, as as we do tours, you knowsome younger, just saying hey. This exists as a real opportunity for you tomake it living and to good work. They just have to know that it's thatthere totally agree- and I think it's great- that you guys are beingadvocates for this among the the young community. I mean you need it foryourselves, but so does the manufacturing sector as a whole yeahabsolutely, and I also just mind to say that I do really enjoy listening toyour podcast, it's very cool to to hear something and every every person thatcomes on like Oh yeah, that's a problem! Nice, Dear, Oh yeah, that's interesting!How they're doing that? It's like there's! Nothing, that's not relevant!So it's been really inspiring and fine to have him in my car way to work backand forth each day. Well, thank you for saying that I appreciate it. It's beenone of the best decisions I've made in fifteen years of running this company,just because I mean for so many reasons. You know I I talked to so manydifferent manufacturing leaders. I talk to people who kind of look into themanufacturing sector from the outside and have advice to offer leaders, andyou know from the just the learnings that about my audience. Frankly, youknow that the people that we are serving and hearing what matters tothem. So it's great market research, for me is a leader of a company whoserves the manufacturing sector and you know, built great connections. I justmet so many interesting people, and so I just think there's so many benefitsto this medium and whether you know a piece of advice for people listeninghere. You know it's not so hard to run a podcast by the way and even if it'snot a podcast, it's I said here and I have conversations with people like youLeslie who have a unique perspective and you can be resource your peers andI just hit record and that's it. You know and then you little little cleanup at the end. But that's been it's...

...been really fun experience. I canappreciate you saying that yeah well you're doing good work because a lot ofus in this business, so you went. You know your data that you're just runningas fast as you can and Tinto get it all done, and then it's nice to take him onwit and force yourself to look at the big picture, get a lot creative andhave that that time that you offer that you know it's a platform like you saidI, if I don't spend enough time talking to you now industry leaders in my world,so this is a way I can hear what they're saying without pick up a phone and calling randompeople. I don't know yeah, absolutely very cool. Well, Estie reallyappreciate you doing this today, and it was your first podcast and I based onhow how many insights you brought to the table and how well you did. Iimagine it's not going to be your last. So thanks for doing this, thank you.You things for being nice. Try can you tell our audience how they can get intouch with you and also how they can learn more about what ledwill is doing?Absolutely I'm on Willdon lessly led well, and you can actually email medirectly at led well at, like Wellcom, led W G ll thing with the company andjust people that to get to our website and see kind of all of the predicts webuild and industries were in and and if you have any new ideas for new things,we need to work on or new it just to get it to were always open to that orif you figured out that secret recipe to solving supply Changis right. Yes,yes, yeah, anything any brilliant, you have I'm always open there. You Gohassome. Well, thank you again, Leslie and as for the rest of you, I hope tocatch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to themanufacturing executive podcast to ensure that you never missed an episodesubscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learnmore about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll find an everexpanding collection of articles, videos guides and tools, specificallyfor B to B manufacturers at Grill, seventy sicot a marten. Thank you somuch for listening until next time E T.

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