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Achieving work-life balance at GKN

Achieving work-life balance at GKN

 March 15, 2017

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As a diverse employer who supports gender equality in the workplace, GKN spoke to some of its female engineers about their experience of being a woman in engineering.

Meet Kristina Schmitt, Manager - Plant Manager at GKN Sinter Metals, St. Thomas, Canada. 

Balancing a critical role while managing a family

Until recently Kristina Schmitt was GKN’s only female plant manager. Being a mother to six month old son Ethan and having responsibility for GKN Sinter Metal’s plant in St. Thomas, Canada, Kristina knows only too well the challenges and rewards involved with achieving work-life balance.

“My biggest challenge has been learning how to balance having a new baby and running a plant. I started back at work in December 2016. The plant was struggling with production due to a recent change on our main line and some downtime from prior months. In addition to that, there was a huge amount of launch activity. I could have lived at the plant with the amount of things that were happening, but I couldn’t because I had a three month old at home. I had to learn very quickly how to balance a plant in crisis mode with family.”

GKN offers variety in its roles

In one day Kristina can go from discussing a quality issue or production dilemma, to reviewing a new part, working on a five-year strategy and coaching employees how to get the best out of their team. “It plays very well into my need for variety and is what always keeps me on my toes.”  Kristina is proud that under her leadership, the site’s production rate has gone up over 40%, from 17,000 pieces per week to 29,000 pieces over the last five years.

Career path into engineering

Kristina joined GKN in 2005 as a member of the International Leadership Development Programme (ILDP). The programme offered her a variety of roles in various countries, ranging from quality and production to health and safety. In 2010, she moved to St. Thomas as a Value Stream Manager and was given responsibility for the whole plant in 2012. “GKN has lived up to its promises and continued to develop me, as well as give me many opportunities to learn and grow.”

Breaking gender stereotypes

As one of only a few female plant managers at GKN, Kristina has first-hand experience of being a female in a male dominated sector. “Ask a lot of questions and get as involved as you can. As a female, you may not get as much ‘time in the garage with dad’ (or, as in my case, your dad’s time in the garage included more duct tape than mechanical know-how!), so get involved in project teams at school or University, or work at a machine shop, or on special projects where you can be more hands-on. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty – you’ll learn so much!” This is her advice to women who are interested in the world of engineering.

“There have been times when I notice that I’m the only woman in the room or have been intimidated by a group of men who have more experience that I do, but there are other times that I don’t even notice it. When I know I have the knowledge and experience to do my job no matter what my gender or age is, this doesn’t matter.”

“I’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of females in both the industry and in GKN over the last few years. I’ve even been in a couple of meetings where women were the majority!”

GKN is a truly supportive employer for women.

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