“I would like to see every employee mentor a child starting from when they’re in junior high and through their first career” with Penny Bauder & Holly Blanchard

I would like to see every employee mentor a child starting from when they’re in junior high and through their first career. This is a long commitment but could be a rewarding experience for both. And if every year you meet another new child, you can potentially impact a dozen or more young people over […]

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I would like to see every employee mentor a child starting from when they’re in junior high and through their first career. This is a long commitment but could be a rewarding experience for both. And if every year you meet another new child, you can potentially impact a dozen or more young people over your lifetime. What a gift!

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Blanchard. Holly is vice president of Information Technology for Residential HVAC at Ingersoll Rand and enables its businesses to serve customers, gain productivity and deliver growth in global markets. She has more than 38 years of experience working on deploying strategic IT initiatives and providing leadership with business readiness and transformation programs.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ididn’t know what I wanted to do with my career when I first started. I took a break before I finished my college degree and worked full-time in different clerical roles. I found that I was always looking for new and interesting things to do. The first challenging role I had was as an order analyst for a large IT transformation project at Trane. Knowing I had an aptitude for this kind of work led me to go back to school. At the time, I was a single-mom working during the day and going to school at night. I finished my business degree, took a break for a few years, then went back and got an information technology (IT) degree.

Although, I was once told to “pick a lane,” I became a bridge between business and IT taking a combination of those roles as my career progressed. I also took on different and bigger projects as we launched new technology platforms and stood up new systems. I’ve held various positions at Trane and Ingersoll Rand my whole career, but have changed roles every few years. I think what helped lead me to my current role in IT leadership is that I was never afraid to take on a new challenge.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

At one point in my career, I volunteered to take over a stalled project where millions of dollars were invested. The direction was for me to “make it work”. The project involved moving our company-owned distribution onto a new IT platform. After several months of innovative problem solving, my teams created and executed a plan to deliver the project in the allotted timeframe. This was the biggest personal risk of my career, yet it paid off providing great exposure to senior leaders and personal growth and development. I also learned that I didn’t have to know all the answers to take on a large project — I needed to recognize the talented people around me and bring them in to help develop solutions.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my first roles was as a Follow-up Secretary. It required a lot of dictation and typing of letters and memos on a typewriter. I couldn’t type or spell very well but I learned quickly! I think because I jumped into my career before finishing my degree, I needed additional time and training. As a result, I may have missed some early career opportunities. I was eventually able to catch up but the slow start impacted my confidence. The good thing about my early struggles is I am more empathetic to others. They’ve helped me become a better mentor.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our company creates comfortable, sustainable and efficient environments for people around the world. Our Trane business heats, cools and automates homes and buildings. What stands out to me is how deeply imbedded sustainability is within our business and culture. It’s our greater purpose that allows us to make a positive impact on the world.

We recently announced our 2030 Sustainability Commitments and one of our goals is to reduce the carbon footprint of our customers by one gigaton. That’s incredible! To give you an idea of scale, one gigaton of emissions is equivalent to the annual emissions of Italy, France and the United Kingdom combined — that is about 2% of the world’s emissions. I am excited to be part of that and play a critical role in creating a more sustainable world.

We also have a Paradigm For Parity initiative (P4P) that is focused on creating an equal playing field for women in the work place. It makes me proud to work for a company that is leading in this space — especially in a male-dominated industry (HVAC).

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am passionate about our associate’s success and understand a lot of the challenges they go through trying to take care of our customers. As with many companies, we tend to invest in new products and tools that focus on the sales process and delay investing in internal process and tool simplification. For example — one area I’m focused on is providing a better customer experience by improving access to information and reducing the number of systems it takes to support the customer. It will benefit everyone in the long run.

I am also working on developing an app for our company’s employee resource groups and starting with our PRIDE employee group for the LGBTQ community. The app will make it easier to self-register, join activities and access helpful resources. We plan to extend it to our other employee groups as well.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

We need to do more to mentor girls in junior high and high school. As part of our 2030 sustainability commitments, we pledged to invest $10 million to foster STEM and early education experiences while also investing in our own workforce development and retraining programs. Girls and boys are treated more equally today than they were in past generations, so that is good. But there is still opportunity to reach girls early on and educate them about the possibilities in STEM careers.

Companies that have STEM-focused fields should create opportunities for leaders of varying backgrounds to spend time in schools — especially early high school and college years when career interests are forming. Girls also need access to strong mentors all along the way, from the time they are in school through to when they get their first job. I am personally involved in a mentoring match program called Menttium and am on our early talent council.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Sometimes we lack confidence and it can hinder our ability to take risks. We need to believe enough in ourselves to take on new challenges, even if we don’t have all the answers or skills necessary. We often hesitate to ask for what we want. Career planning, active networking and having strong mentors should be lifelong priorities. Start these things early in your career.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

There is a misconception that you have to be good in math or science to be in a STEM role. I am a business person who is not particularly great at math but was still able to move into a technical field, and eventually take on a financial leadership role through a development opportunity. Again, it is about taking risk and facing your fears head on. While I think that there are still barriers — overall, women are taking on more roles in STEM and excelling.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You do not have to be the smartest person in the room — recognize the people who are and bring them to the table.
  2. Have courage to try new things and take roles outside of your comfort zone. You don’t have to know everything about a new role to take it on.
  3. Stay relevant and current. Have a global mindset and continue to develop throughout your career.
  4. Everyone feels “imposter syndrome” and feelings of inadequacy sometimes. Recognize it for what it is, and that no one knows everything.
  5. The people around you give meaning to life. I have a blended family with nine grown children and ten grandchildren. I am also taking care of an aging parent. I make them my priority and still do my job well.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

You have to get to know your team personally. This can be especially hard in our virtual world -but make the time. You need to foster deep relationships and get a feel for what’s working and what’s not. Understand the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and help the team build relationships with each other. If you have people on your team who are not working out and they are impacting the rest of the team negatively, you need to face that and make adjustments. It’s also important to empower your teams. I believe in being a collaborative leader. I can make a hard decision when necessary but prefer the team talks through it and looks at all the angles first.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see every employee mentor a child starting from when they’re in junior high and through their first career. This is a long commitment but could be a rewarding experience for both. And if every year you meet another new child, you can potentially impact a dozen or more young people over your lifetime. What a gift!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.” Nelson Mandela

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Warren Buffet and/or Bill and Melinda Gates. They are tremendously successful business people and have dedicated their lives to helping others.

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