While women represent nearly half of the U.S. labor force, they account for just 27% of the manufacturing workforce.
Holding a unique spot in the industry as an executive with more than 20 years of leadership experience, Gena Lovett found her love for manufacturing early in her career at Ford Motor Co. After 15 years with Ford, the Cleveland native then joined Alcoa as director of manufacturing before transitioning into the role of chief diversity officer.
Now, as vice president of operations for Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security business, Lovett has worked her way to the top of an industry where very few women are present. Joining the aerospace company in August 2015, she is responsible for the production of all fixed-wing tactical aircraft, tankers, transport aircraft, rotorcraft, satellites and weapon systems, and is deputy leader of the Boeing Operations Leadership Team (BOLT).
Serving as an executive for a $31 billion company with 53,000 employees, the Ohio State alum makes no apologies for her climb to success in a male-dominated industry.
On average, what does a day in the life of Gena Lovett look like?
I wake up at about 5 or 5:15 a.m. I try to get a workout in, but sometimes I fall off. If I don’t get it in in the morning, then I get try to get it in in the evening. I’ve found over the years that the way I process the inevitable stress is to just exercise. I’m usually in the office around 6:30 a.m. depending on what I have going on. But most recently, it’s been about 7:30 a.m. I have a lot of program reviews and because I have so much to learn, I sit in on those reviews so I can better understand our products. Concurrent with that, I’m working on my strategy and meeting with my managers to see what they have going on with their strategy because we are changing. In order to make sure we continue to be this industrial giant and that we go into the second century not resting on our laurels, you have to bring a lot of people along with that change. So I do a lot of listening. I also help to set the strategic direction because that’s what I’ve been hired to do. So a day can be full of reviews, which require you to pay attention, ask questions and take in a lot.
As a female leader, how do you find the balance between showing you care without coming off as too soft or emotional?
When I first came to the business, there were not a lot of female role models but the ones that were there didn’t have pictures of their children or loved ones or anything that would identify them as woman or human or anyone who may have a soft side. I just figured out some time ago that it just takes too much energy to have all these personalities and the truth is it just got very hard to keep up with all that. My family is a very important reason why I do this. So I’m not afraid now of caring too much. But for as many people who you find who say, “Oh she cares,” I think I can be very demanding and tough, so it’s a balance.
What are some of the challenges you faced while climbing the ranks in manufacturing?
The truth is, a lot of times I’ve walked into an environment where there hasn’t been someone who looked like me, and really more female and not necessarily a person of color. So there is this natural tendency to say, “Hey, can she do it?” My credentials speak for themselves. Very often, males next to me are afforded the benefit of the doubt and I have to prove myself. And I don’t say that as though, “Oh woe is Gena.” Just understand what it is and move past it. For me, when you join an organization, you have to understand where those trouble spots are and then raise your hand to be someone who goes to help with those trouble spots. When you do that, you will amass a reputation for someone who is able to deliver.
Looking back on your journey, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
I’ve always been a bit of a free spirit, but my introvert caused me to hold back more than I probably would have. I guess my advice would be, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” That’s a loaded statement because it doesn’t mean go to an organization and cause trouble, but it does mean dare to be that disruptor.