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People Spotlight

Get Brave and Lead

Conversation with JoAnna Garcia Sohovich, CEO, Chamberlain Group

JoAnna Sohovich Garcia

As March marks Women’s History Month, the Manufacturers Alliance had the opportunity to connect with JoAnna Garcia Sohovich, CEO of Chamberlain Group, which designs and manufactures commercial and residential access solutions through prominent brands LiftMaster, Chamberlain, and the company’s myQ digital ecosystem. JoAnna is also a member of MAPI’s Board of Trustees.

Many thanks to JoAnna for taking the time to share with our members and the manufacturing community.

1. As women’s representation in the manufacturing workforce has remained around the 30% mark since the 1970s, how do you think female manufacturing CEOs can help create a more equal workforce in the sector? 

As a female CEO in manufacturing, I also view myself as the Chief Culture Officer, responsible for championing our company’s path toward attracting the right people who will grow our culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a result, we work very hard to ensure that our interview slates are diverse—especially at the director-level and above.  Even in cases where the best candidate isn’t diverse, I ask very direct questions about that person’s past teams, examine their track record for attracting, developing, engaging, and retaining diverse talent, and hold them accountable for implementing what we discussed after they are onboard. I also try to connect with younger generations and empower young women to realize they are smart, strong, and can accomplish anything. I have discovered recently that mentoring Gen Z women is a meaningful learning experience for me as well!

Finally, another thing that has worked for us is to tailor our university partnerships specifically to bring in more diverse co-ops and interns. That allows us to broaden our talent pipeline as well as to introduce young professionals to the innovative work happening throughout manufacturing.

2. As a former officer in the U.S. Navy, with a manufacturing career, and now the CEO of a manufacturing company, how has your career in typically male-dominated industries affected your leadership style?  

I was not born a risk-taker. By forcing myself to embrace risks and challenges throughout my Naval and manufacturing careers, I fortified my confidence in my own ability to succeed. By demonstrating that confidence and commitment—as well as results--I was able to gain the trust of peers, superiors, and the teams I’ve led, regardless of gender.

That reminds me of a book I chose for our Women’s Network book group: Seducing the Boys Club. The author, Nina DeSesa, offers similar advice for women wanting to expand their professional horizons in male-dominated landscapes:

  • Remember that women are biologically wired to succeed.
  • If you want to make a name for yourself, find a mess and fix it. A secure and comfortable job only holds you back.
  • Act brave, and you will look brave.

3. As you grew in your manufacturing career, did you have a mentor who helped you become the leader you are today? How did s/he help you on your journey?

I have benefited from countless mentors, and therefore encourage others to seek out people who they can learn from and who can help them achieve their goals. In fact, rather than trying to find a one-size-fits-all mentor, I encourage people to assemble their own personal board of directors. That allows you to take advantage of a diversity of opinions and experiences and turn to the mentor who has a particular strength or insight in the area you need to explore. This board may represent various experiences in different industries, different approaches to challenging circumstances based on their own unique experiences.

4. What advice would you give women striving for leadership roles?

Don’t be afraid to ask for the role you want. Be prepared, though, to co-invest in your future by accepting the positions that will get you there. That may mean embracing risk by taking on tough positions—the ones your peers are afraid to accept or the ones that move your family across the world. In other words:  the roles you never imagined taking! Once in the role, focus and perform—you’ll learn more through application than you did in any formal education. By demonstrating commitment and success, not only will you gain confidence in yourself—you’ll gain the confidence of those around you.

5. Due to the loss of 2.5 million female workers, Vice President Kamala Harris wrote in February that “The Exodus of Women from the Workforce is a National Emergency.” How has Chamberlain Group been able to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic to help working women?

I feel fortunate to be part of a family-owned company that is guided by family values. Despite all the initial uncertainty around the pandemic and its potential impact on business, our owners, the Duchossois family, committed to helping our ONETEAM members weather the storm through job guarantees. These allowed all our employees to focus on health, family, and performing their jobs without the added stress of worrying about potential furloughs or lay-offs.

Beyond that, I recognize that while everyone experienced a great deal of stress and added responsibility due to COVID, working moms expressed accountability for domestic responsibilities. Artfully arranged help structures (childcare, housecleaning, schooling, etc.) collapsed under quarantine conditions, leaving mothers, in particular, feeling like they had to pick up the extra slack. I don’t intend to imply that these situations were universal or that working fathers weren’t supportive—I just know that working mothers voiced an overwhelming increase in mental load, at a minimum, and wondered whether they could be successful under the added weight.

As a result, we tried to allow as much flexibility as possible to our employees while maintaining focus on what our customers needed. I personally reached out to male and female employees that I knew were experiencing unprecedented personal challenges and discussed with their managers how we could help ease the burden.

Finally, we worked very hard to stay in constant communication with our newly distributed, quarantined workforce by sharing information often and transparently, constructing processes and policies to help keep our employees, their families, and our communities safe, and staying laser-focused on preventing any virus spread in our facilities.

I firmly believe that all these investments paid off because our employee Net Promoter Score (which we pulse quarterly, at a minimum) reached an all-time high during 2020.

6. With an estimated skilled labor shortage in manufacturing of over 2 million workers, how do you think manufacturing leaders help fill these gaps with qualified, diverse minority talent?

I strongly believe in developing early-career programs that allow diverse talent to experience the manufacturing industry and our company. We specifically partner with universities that can support our industry and company with outstanding, diverse candidates. Not only do these programs help us seed our future leaders with diverse talent, but it allows us to develop the long-term career development and loyalty that fuels retention of that talent. 

7. Do you have any advice for male CEOs or Chairs working on getting more women on their leadership teams?

If you want to innovate, you need diverse perspectives that can break through the group-think. The complaint that I hear most often from male CEOs is that it’s difficult to find qualified diverse talent. Conversely, I hear from women who are frustrated by the lack of opportunities as they toil away in the same role and are told to be patient and gather more experience. My advice is to solve both problems by identifying female talent who may be higher in potential than experience and giving them a shot. That may mean being willing to onboard a woman board member who is not yet a CEO. It may mean proactively giving some of your female talent challenging assignments so that they can demonstrate their readiness for promotion. It certainly means redefining your perspective of what “the right” candidate looks like and remolding your interview questions to better assess potential than experience. 

When I was a high-potential employee rising through the ranks, I know that I thrived in, and was attracted to, organizations that valued potential over experience, and were willing to imagine success from someone not from central casting! That will be the key to winning the war for talent, regardless of gender, race, or any other demographic.

8. As women enter the next stages of education or their first jobs, what advice do you have on why they should explore a career in manufacturing?  

Manufacturing is growing and changing in so many exciting ways. We need fresh and creative ideas. You could become a leader in an important industry that is responsible for creating innovative solutions for our global marketplace. Jump in, make an impact, lead.

9. What did we miss?

You may notice that a lot of my advice, while helpful to women, is also beneficial for all our employees. I don’t believe that the talent equation is a zero-sum game where helping to attract, engage, develop, nurture, and retain women means that others lose out. Instead, by empathizing and engaging with our women employees, we’ve improved our programs, benefits, and approaches for all of our employees. That’s the way it should be.