People from diverse backgrounds have found their careers in the metals industry. However, professional growth and promotions in this field more readily happen for men than women.
Sonya Malvick is working to change that.
She is the international president of the Association of Women in the Metals Industries and an outside sales representative for Olympic Steel out of its Gary, Ind., facility. Malvick said the company empowers women to pursue professional growth within the organization. In fact, the forward-thinking Olympic Steel is a sponsor of AWMI, according to Malvick, adding that the business recognizes that women deserve mentoring and networking opportunities in order to achieve their goals while adding value to the company.
But industrywide the story is not always the same. “The challenges we still face as women in our industry are probably those higher leadership roles. I think that, as women, we don’t often step up into a promotion opportunity. A man will take the chance and step up, even if he feels he’s only 25 percent qualified for a position, believing he will figure out the job’s responsibilities along the way. On the other hand, women need to feel that they can master that role 100 percent before they are willing to step up,” Malvick said. “And I think all that women ever wanted was to be viewed the same as men in similar roles. We all want to be looked at for the skill sets that we have.”
As is the case for all industries, metals companies don’t always have the time or the resources to train individuals, and this is where associations can pick up the slack. Malvick expressed that metals companies should support AWMI and similar associations. In fact, she believes the skills gained through AWMI membership can help women launch themselves to grow within their companies and possibly secure leadership positions.
Besides offering resources and networking opportunities, AWMI offers opportunities for women to gain hands-on experience that will give them the skill sets they need in order to grow in a business. To do this, the association provides a one-on-one mentoring program, where a woman in the metals industry gets matched with a mentor in a field the employee wants to grow in.
“If you want to learn more about negotiations and you want an opportunity to go for a higher position in purchasing, for example, you would come to us and say, ‘Hey, this is an area I’m really struggling with, and I would like some one-on-one help,’” said Malvick, adding that achieving a skill set with a mentor in a non-judgmental, relaxed environment can result in huge payoffs in helping women achieve confidence to apply for a desired position.
AWMI also gives its members other leadership opportunities, such as serving on the organization’s chapter, regional and international boards. “A woman may not currently be in a leadership position [at her company], and she is welcome to join one of our boards,” Malvick said. “This really gives the individual an opportunity to understand what it means to run a business. All of a sudden, an AWMI member can say, ‘Now I know how a business is run. Now I know how to manage people. I’ve served on a board of directors for the last three years. I’ve been able to experience not only hands-on leadership, but leadership training.’”
Malvick said this real-world experience helps give women confidence to apply for available management positions. “One’s whole skill set has just jumped up, better preparing you for that new opportunity,” she said. “Through these experiences, women are getting the tools they need that they maybe wouldn’t otherwise get.”
She believes if companies support organizations such as AWMI, it’s a win-win situation: women gain skills, and companies ultimately get more value from their employees. “The great thing about being part of AWMI or any association is that it offers the support of women. That’s where my passion lies: helping women as we look to grow,” she said.
In addition, like most employees, women “want a company willing to create the things they’re passionate about,” said Malvick, adding that today’s employees are not just looking for job security as they did years ago, but they now are seeking professional development and growth opportunities in the workplace. “Companies really need to be able to understand that, and when you’re looking to solicit a new candidate who would really be a great benefit to your team, you have to be able to put that in the forefront.
“It’s not just about looking at the resume and seeing what school they graduated from; it’s trying to figure out exactly how do we find a way to mesh, how do we get a really great candidate, and how do we keep them? Do our core values align with theirs? As an outside salesperson for Olympic Steel I need to know that the values of my company align with my own in order to properly represent them out in the field.”
“You want to know that your company appreciates you,” said Malvick. “You want to know your company has your back and values you as an employee. Employees really want to know that companies and associations that they are a part of support their efforts.” Olympic Steel rolled out a new program last year, ”I am Olympic,” where the company highlights employees from all sectors of the company and their personal achievements and leadership qualities. “This is a way to recognize the great talent working for the company,” she said.
Overall, adding women to the workforce and supporting their professional growth helps create a more diverse workforce, according to Malvick. “Diversity brings a different perspective. It gives us exposure to different types of people and opens up the opportunity to access a greater talent pool,” she said. “As workforce demographics change, it’s more important than ever that companies show a commitment to embracing change and fostering mutual respect in a non-judgmental environment. AWMI has been doing this all along.”
“As women, we are willing to do the work. We have to in order to set ourselves up for success and work to have that skill set. This way, when a position is available, it makes it that much easier to be the chosen one for that next role.”