Spotlight on Women in Manufacturing: Suman Shekar, operations manager at Companion Baking

What does Companion Baking make?

Companion Baking is a customized baking program that provides a multitude of frozen or fresh bread products while also including full distribution and cost control capabilities.

Can you talk about your experience in being a woman in a typically male-dominated field?

When I started at Companion, I felt intimidated and nervous. On my first day, another female pastry baker who noticed that I was nervous, pulled me aside to compliment me on my outfit. This simple gesture made me feel welcome and opened the door to communication. It has also fostered my commitment to maintaining my own personal style both in physical appearance and how I interact with others. Early in my career, I realized that I had a different approach to building workplace relationships than I was seeing in my male colleagues that I have chosen to embrace. Staying true to myself and how I want to interact with others has allowed me to build confidence, trust and prove my reliability in ways that would not have been possible if I had tried to emulate the style of the men I have worked with. I often encourage the younger generation of women that I am now meeting at work to discover how they want to be viewed and to also stay true to it.

Are there any misconceptions about working in the industry that you’d like to debunk?

Putting an emphasis on the need for physical strength in the manufacturing industry. While it’s true that my career has been filled with physically and mentally strong individuals, especially men, some of the best friendships, bonds, and laughs I have had came from other women who haven’t necessarily been physically strong. Whether it was simply them recognizing that I needed help with a task or just being there for me when I needed someone to make me smile, women have time and time again been my support system. That true strength in partnership is what truly keeps me going.

Can you talk about your experience with Redzone?

I started at Companion a year and a half before we joined the Redzone community, and the common complaint I would hear was, “I wish we would communicate better.” Before Redzone, I would stand with a timer next to a piece of equipment, person, or dough tracking its every move, to see if we could make improvements. While doing so, I had the chance to talk to employees, bakers, and the team, where I learned they desired to know more about their path for the day and how they can feel more engaged. Once we saw the impact Redzone had on other plants, we could see that there was a chance we would make improvements to processes much faster than by using a handheld timer and a notepad. But the most important part was the improved communication it brought to our team and a sense of being in it together, as well as new opportunities to advance my own career. I feel real satisfaction about all that we are achieving as a team and the improvements that we are making to our processes and approach.

Claudine Bianchi, SVP Global Marketing, brings more than 30 years of B2B technology marketing expertise to Redzone. She started her career as an engineer and quickly moved into QA, Documentation, Tech Support and Product Management.

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