Woman taking an online training course in a manufacturing facility.

Women in Manufacturing: An Interview with Kavita Krishnamurthy

As part of a tribute to women in manufacturing, we at THORS eLearning Solutions decided to showcase one of our own, Kavita Krishnamurthy.

Kavita is an ASQ certified Six Sigma Black Belt with over 15 years of experience in the field of process improvement, manufacturing engineering, and quality management in the automotive and gear industries. She earned her Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Madras in Chennai, India, and her Master of Industrial Engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Q: How did you decide on engineering for your field of study?

Kavita: Growing up, I always liked science, math, and computers. I think it was very natural to go in that direction. Twenty years ago, in India, engineering was a very popular and favorable choice. My father is a mechanical engineer and I always looked up to him. So, I always thought I would go into mechanical engineering. But then, because my father is a mechanical engineer, he wanted me to try something different! He advised me to try a blend of mechanical and electrical, or instrumentation. This was a happy medium. I chose instrumentation and control engineering for my bachelor’s degree.

Q: What were the early years in your career like for you as a woman in the manufacturing industry?

Kavita: I had the advantage of growing up in an environment of very strong women. The school I went to was led by a woman and 90% of my teachers were women. They taught me strong ethics and how to stand up for myself. When I think back to when I first started, I really didn’t have much “pushback,” my colleagues and boss were very supportive of growth and development, and I felt appreciated for what I brought to the table and how much I could grow. I really grew a lot and learned a lot in my first job, and I have to credit my boss for that. That doesn’t mean I didn’t face others that were not quite as accepting of me as a woman.

Q: Sounds like you might have a story about a time you have faced adversity.

Kavita: Well, there was one stereotype I encountered early on when my personal life intersected my career, and that was the notion that with pregnancy came a sort of weakness. There was a tone that questioned if I would be able to perform at the same level. You know you don’t think that kind of discrimination exists until you face it, and you’re like oh, so there are people that think that way.
So, what happened is I took on an $8 Million dollar project that was due to deliver in nine months, the same as my daughter. I thought, just because I am in manufacturing and I was pregnant does not mean that I cannot walk the shop floor, work through parts being produced, and work through parts being assembled to ship. But nobody thought I would pull it off.

"I remember it was a Monday morning and I was scheduled to be at the hospital at 7pm. Everyone looked at me and wondered why I was still there. I said, ‘that gearbox is being assembled, I’m not going anywhere.’ I managed the project and delivered the baby and the project on the same day."

Kavita’s involvement in the manufacturing industry includes work in condenser manufacturing for both off highway and on highway products and gear and gear drive manufacturing for heavy industrial, locomotive, and wind components.

Her expertise is in continuous improvement and process optimization for various products and processes.

Q: How did you get into quality?

Kavita: Once I completed my bachelors, it was a natural progression of coming to the United States to do a master’s. I decided on industrial engineering because it was a broad field that would allow me to go into a lot of different industries. While studying, I was drawn to quality engineering because I liked math and statistics, so I decided to also minor in quality.

"Looking back, I have loved every minute I've been on the shop floor, involved in process improvement and troubleshooting."

Kavita has been an integral part of THORS eLearning Solutions for the past five years, developing technical course content, performing data analysis on course production milestones, identifying and implementing strategies to ensure timelines are being met, and developing and executing strategies to improve sales and marketing functions.

Q: What inspired you to go from manufacturing to eLearning at THORS?

Kavita: I think it is so super cool to put something in a course and for somebody to come back and say they learned something from a video or interactive that we put together, or when they tell me they didn’t know some detail and that we added value to their day. So, to hear stories like that is pretty cool. I didn’t realize until I was working here how much I enjoy the teaching aspect, it’s very impactful and meaningful.

"I am helping people learn. I never thought I would be a type of teacher even though I had a “teacher gene” in me as my mom was a teacher as well!"

Q: What advice do you have for young women, or any woman, interested in a career in engineering or manufacturing?

Kavita: Well first, establish a circle of support. This could include not only family members and friends or colleagues but seek out mentors. A mentor doesn’t have to be your direct boss, but somebody that is at a senior position. Trying to build a relationship of trust with them – that would be a great asset. You know, someone that you could say, “Hey, I ran into this situation. What do you think? Did I handle it right?” Or maybe you already handled it, to be able to go ask the question, “should I have handled that differently?”

You may not know it when you first start, but you will need that support for when you find yourself in a situation where you would like some feedback, and you should be open to receiving the feedback as well. I think that having multiple levels of support has really helped me navigate through a male-centric manufacturing world and I think that holds true for anybody.

And networking can be a support system too. Linked-In is great for me, I’m part of multiple groups. I’ve always been a part of the American Society for Quality, even as a student. They offer many section meetings and networking events. I have to admit though, I am not a natural networking person, it’s something I constantly work on because I think it’s so important to keep up to date on technologies and keep up connections.

Q: That was great, did you have another piece of advice to add?

Kavita: Yes, I also wanted to share what has always helped me in my career, that especially helped me to bypass any stereotypes and earn the respect of others in the industry – and that is knowledge. I believe that if you can back up any stance or idea you have with data, or facts, it builds you up to a level of respect and trust that helps you move forward. And if you keep abreast of correct terminology and widening your knowledge – eLearning is great for that – you can speak knowledgably in any situation.

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