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Ladies in Small Trade: Kathie Leonard of Auburn Production

Kathie Leonard, president and CEO of Auburn Production, stands in entrance of a large loom lately. Andree Kehn/Solar Magazine

MECHANIC FALLS — Contemporary out of faculty and new to Maine within the early Nineteen Seventies, a tender Kathie Leonard was once embarking on a profession she had little likelihood of succeeding in, when you believed the chances. She was once a tender lady operating in a male-dominated mill in Lewiston the place, amongst different issues, they made an commercial material to switch asbestos.

At about the similar time, Katharine Graham turned into the primary feminine leader govt officer of a Fortune 500 corporate, after taking the reins because the writer of the Washington Submit newspaper.

They had been important milestones at a time when ladies owned about 400,000 companies, or 4.6% of all companies within the nation, consistent with the federal Small Trade Management. As archaic because it sounds, ladies on this nation who sought after to take out a industry mortgage needed to have a male family member co-sign for the mortgage till 1988. Lately, the SBA says there are over 13 million women-owned companies within the U.S., or kind of 42% of general companies, producing just about $2 trillion in earnings.

“I used to be in at the floor ground of selling an commercial material that was once designed to switch asbestos. And also you don’t have any thought what number of packages there are the place asbestos was once used,” Leonard stated.

Now not simply in car brakes and in ceiling tiles and ground tiles, however as mechanical insulation on ships and as insulation wrapped round pipes all over the petroleum business — any place there was once excessive warmth, Leonard defined.

“I fell in love with it, it was once simply such a lot amusing!” stated she. Over the following 3 years, Leonard honed her advertising and marketing talents via her writing and what she calls her skill to provide an explanation for issues concisely. She stated she took calls from engineers and replied their technical questions, even dabbling in business presentations, the place she was once the one lady at the back of a sales space.

After 3 years, Leonard stated she was once able to take the next move and earn more money. She and a male spouse based Auburn Production and not regarded again. “Mainly, it was once about having a greater profession. I sought after to develop, and at the moment there weren’t a large number of ladders for ladies. So while you get started your individual industry, you create your individual ladder. And that’s what I did.”

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The fast-term objectives had been easy, stated Leonard: pay the hire and purchase garments for her kid — to have a circle of relatives and no longer have to fret such a lot about her subsequent paycheck. That was once necessary to her, as a result of she’d grown up and not using a lot as a child and stated she simply didn’t wish to do this the remainder of her existence. At 27 years previous, Leonard stated she didn’t have any long-term objectives. “I simply didn’t have any concept that it might closing this lengthy.”


The president and CEO stated she struggled within the early days to be revered as a industry skilled within the production area. “Everyone who got here to our industry idea I used to be the secretary,” she stated. “They might are available they usually’d suppose that any individual else — a male — was once the boss and that I used to be . . .”

She shrugs it off now as only a signal of the days, however admits it was once disconcerting. “I had a spouse who was once superb about pronouncing ‘Oh, you wish to have to speak to her.’ And I’ve been fortunate like that. Numerous guys do this and it’s very a lot liked.”

Leonard stated she lacked self assurance and was once fearful within the early years as smartly.

“After I communicate to different ladies they wish to listen that tale — ‘how did you do this?’ and ‘how did it really feel?’ — as a result of that’s actual,” she stated.

Maximum of Leonard’s revel in was once on-the-job coaching. She didn’t get a grasp’s level in commercial era or engineering. “I went via a factor the place I assumed I shouldn’t be on this activity,” she stated. “I’m simply a normal gal.”

It took her a few years to realize self assurance. Leonard stated she did it via perseverance, going again to university and finding out economics, human sources and accounting, all of the talents they’d to make use of to run the industry. She calls herself a “cookbook learner” as a result of she likes the instructions — display her how you can do one thing and she or he’s excellent.

“I additionally simply stored forcing myself to do issues,” Leonard defined. “The primary time I were given requested to talk in public I used to be scared to dying. And I took a Dale Carnegie path and discovered how to do this and simply pressured myself to do it, and I were given via it. It’s been 43 years and it’s been difficult, however I’m comfy in my very own pores and skin now, but it surely took rather some time.”

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Ladies have made important development within the industry global previously 50 years on this nation, however a variety of problems stay at the leading edge, amongst them being the gender pay hole and the share of girls in best management positions.

As a trademark of the way ladies have stepped forward in Maine, Maine’s Ladies’s Trade Checklist is a public listing of women-owned companies around the state with some 200 companies at the checklist. The Maine Ladies’s Community stated it represents and helps loads of girls in industry within the state. The College of Maine industry faculty has a Ladies in Trade group, whilst Coastal Enterprises Inc., or CEI, has a Ladies’s Trade Middle interested in ladies who wish to get started a industry or develop their industry in Maine.

Leonard concurs issues are so much more straightforward for ladies as of late than they had been when she first began out in industry. “I feel the more youthful ladies have made it more straightforward for us, for everyone,” she stated. “My age team led the way in which, but it surely was once a rocky highway. Those gals bobbing up are simply comfy in their very own pores and skin always and I surprise at them, and it makes us all really feel extra comfy. Now there’s extra ladies in each and every team.”

But ladies are nonetheless within the minority within the production box right here. Leonard stated that’s why she believes publicity to STEM-based training — an acronym that stands for science, era, engineering and math — is particularly necessary for women previous in existence.

In step with the U.S. Trade Division, ladies make up lower than one-third of the 15.8 million other folks hired in production industries, and 1 in 4 production leaders are ladies. Census information display that employees in production make extra source of revenue than the typical employee. And whilst ladies in production make greater than the median for ladies, they nonetheless make handiest 72% of the median male wage within the business. With production changing into increasingly more high-tech, some really feel producers possibility overlooking extremely professional employees by means of no longer recruiting ladies.

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Auburn Production actively recruits ladies, Leonard stated. “We now have rather a couple of ladies in manufacturing, even in weaving, the place that didn’t was once a lady’s activity. However with the apparatus that we’ve got that is helping transfer issues round — you don’t have so that you could elevate heavy issues, they usually’re superb at it.”

Reflecting on her 43 years on the helm of her corporate, Leonard stated she’s amazed and completely pleased with the corporate they’ve constructed and the workers — a lot of whom were together with her their whole careers — who’ve made all of it occur.

“I’ve grown into it and I’ve accomplished my homework these types of years and I feel now I’m excellent at it and I’m pleased with that,” she stated. “I’m so proud to have 50 other folks operating right here,” she emphasised. “It’s exhausting paintings however they don’t thoughts that when you’ve got all of the different issues. We now have advantages, we’ve got a spot in Rangeley the place the workers can cross and take their households. You realize it does have somewhat of the existence steadiness to it. We’re no longer that strict however we’re all about getting the product out the door.”

As to the development ladies have made in industry because the Nineteen Seventies?

“I feel you simply stay on keepin’ on,” Leonard stated. “To head from 4% to 43% that’s a large alternate. So, you’re virtually part, will we should be greater than part?”

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