Rising Through The GE Ranks: One Woman’s Quest To Unite Data And Empathy

Rising Through The GE Ranks:

One Woman’s Quest To Unite Data And Empathy

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For over two decades, Marcia Brey has fully immersed herself within the factory walls of GE Appliances, arguably one of the world’s most recognizable brands. There, she’s learned how to navigate the demands of a massive global business and the intricacies of serving as a leader in a male dominated environment. Now, with her two engineering Masters’ degrees and countless hours of experience on the production floor and in the supply chain, Brey is serving as the company’s first Lean Enterprise Leader.

“My job is to elevate this thinking — this laser-tight focus on the most efficient use of resources — across our entire enterprise. We want to pull departments and job functions together to solve problems quickly at less cost,” Brey told SWAAY.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in technology, sales, production, marketing or distribution; every associate has expertise in some aspect of our business, and every associate is part of the Lean Enterprise.”

She explained that her team will essentially be the glue that binds these many different perspectives together, allowing the company to see more than any one individual or dataset could ever reveal. This position wasn’t just handed to her, though. Throughout her tenure at GE, Brey has continuously proven an effective leader.  

GE factory
Effective Leadership Techniques

To be a fruitful leader in any field or environment, you must be able to engage with, motivate, and challenge individuals for the betterment of the group and company at large. Brey’s leadership style is unique in that she takes a hands-on approach, remains humble in her authority, and is able to quickly relate to people with genuine compassion.

“It all starts with empathy,” says Brey. “I think many leaders are quick to speak and slow to listen; my best advice is to get out and go see for yourself. Associates don’t expect you to know everything, to have all the answers, but will respect you for taking the time to understand their roles and the concerns that come with those responsibilities.”

Brey says that by working multiple job functions at GE — and having these various perspectives — helps her understand that it’s not just about how you teach someone to solve a problem, but it’s how you encourage someone to get to the source of the issue and address it from the user’s perspective.

Marcia Brey

“Doing this requires a cross-functional approach, where associates from different areas of the business must come together and dig deeper to uncover the real issues. But it’s this collaboration, this camaraderie, that catches on and starts to spread,” she explains. “I think there’s a social aspect to Lean that’s often overlooked, but that associates respond strongly to, that can only come when employees feel genuinely engaged and enabled by leadership. It’s not rocket science, but it takes a calculated approach and a commitment by management to model this ideal state in their words and deeds day in and day out.”

One of Brey’s favorite go-to leadership tactics is sketching and drawing sessions. “Collaboration sounds great, but if you just have a bunch of people sitting in a room waiting to share their opinion, then not a lot tends to happen,” she says. 

“With lean thinking, we have our teams get out the sketch pad and draw their ideas. Then we put the sketches on the wall and go through one by one asking, ‘What do you see?’”

One picture might not show the entire problem, she explains, but when you see them collectively it creates a depth that you might not have even realized was there. For Brey, it’s not just about talking and barking demands, it’s about using a process that encourages employees to see beyond their own perspective.

Leading in a Male Dominated Industry

In regard to leading in a male dominated environment, Brey said it’s nothing she’s not used to, and something she doesn’t obsess over.

“I’m an engineer by trade, so I have been in environments with a disproportionate ratio of men to women for most of my career, especially early on. The simple answer is that we need more representation of women in technical roles. For instance, the foundation of lean and what we’re doing comes from a manufacturing and supply chain environment, which is very underrepresented by women leaders or really, women in general,” she said. “Naturally, it can be intimidating to be the only gal in a group of guys, but hard work and bright ideas are universal, and there’s nothing that breaks down barriers faster than succeeding on a project together.”

“Naturally, it can be intimidating to be the only gal in a group of guys, but hard work and bright ideas are universal, and there’s nothing that breaks down barriers faster than succeeding on a project together,”

-Marcia Brey

She adds that it’s important to have leaders at all levels, both at GE and in general, that accurately reflect the diversity of the company’s consumers and employees. The more diverse the leadership culture, the wider the breadth of thinking.

And while the manufacturing space holds firm as “a man’s world,” it is a new generation of leaders — including leaders like Brey — that change the perception of women in commercial industries.  

Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers women’s lifestyle topics for numerous digital publications, including Refinery29, InStyle, xoVain, Headspace, PopSugar and ModCloth. You can learn more about her at WendyGould.com.

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