“It is a myth that you can’t be true to yourself”, with Penny Bauder & Barbara Phillips Krutsch

There is a perception that you can’t be ‘true to yourself’ and you must become someone that will fit in and not be feminine. Most companies want you to do your job and will embrace individualism as long as it doesn’t interfere with the business. Blending in doesn’t need to be part of the job, […]

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There is a perception that you can’t be ‘true to yourself’ and you must become someone that will fit in and not be feminine. Most companies want you to do your job and will embrace individualism as long as it doesn’t interfere with the business. Blending in doesn’t need to be part of the job, women should not believe that they have to bury their individualism as that itself can bring out their creativity in the workplace.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara Phillips Krutsch.

Barbara is the Director of Technical Support, IoT Products and Services at Digi International. She is responsible of providing technical support and training to customers, leading a global team to align the company’s goals with those of its customers to improve satisfaction while enabling flexible support.

She has been in the company for over 10 years and has held positions as Engineering Manager and Engineering Director, Quality; in which she was responsible for defining, measuring and validating engineering decisions required to release products, software and hardware in an Agile development environment. Prior to joining Digi, she worked at Xiotech as Vice President of Technical Services and Director of Test Engineering.

She holds a Bachelor of Science, Geology from the University of Arizona.

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

I like being in the middle of the action and being able to facilitate decisions both upstream towards the customer’s interaction and downstream where design decisions are made.

In my first job, working for an oil company that developed highly technical simulation software, I found a niche position helping the customers through on-site training while influencing the design and development of the product through internal testing.

Since then I have always leaned towards jobs that let me have a more technical approach while acting as an advisor for customers. Listening to the customer’s needs in order to build the right product is a challenge, even more when incorporating new technology, it requires understanding the market needs and balancing the demands of a wide array of interests from customers. My career has been focused in providing feedback to companies on the quality and usability of products to best position a successful interaction with our customers.

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

Two months after taking the position of Director of Engineering, and assuming the management of the Engineering Manufacturing Test team, we had a devastating fire at a key contract manufacturer facility. The fire destroyed our test equipment and raw materials which severely impacted our ability to produce a high revenue product.

My team was responsible for designing, developing, and implementing 20 new test systems to get the full line in production within 3 months. It was an extremely challenging task to complete in such a short window, but with the help of an experienced team both in engineering and operations we were successful. Digi was able to succeed because we had a focused, dedicated and experienced team that would not say no to the improbable task we were given.

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?

In my first job I traveled frequently to train oil and gas reservoir engineers on how to use the complicated simulation software designed to recover tertiary oil reserves. One time while training a team in South America, I told the class that I was in charge of making sure the software performed correctly and that I would be able to get all issues resolved. When the manager of the group repeated what I said to the class, I realized how ridiculous it sounded, quite overreaching!

The group was gracious with my statement and I learned a great lesson: Never promise what you can’t deliver and don’t portray a team effort as a singularity.

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

Digi works with companies that are using IoT connectivity solutions to solve problems across many sectors, such as retail and transportation. The adoption of IoT is helping these companies provide better services that ultimately help cities and people.

At Digi we have deep experience and knowledge in cellular technology and understand how it is becoming more complex on the providers end, but at the same time our customer profile is also changing. IoT is now being adopted and used by more non-technical people, opening the door to many new opportunities. We are skilled at providing solutions for all levels of customer interaction.

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

The technical support organization has launched a project to update the Digi Support website to bring a better focus on our customer needs and enable the technical tools customers expect.

It will provide prospective and existing customers the tools to analyze our products to solve industry problems by providing solution guides, knowledge base and application notes for specific IoT use cases, it will improve the visibility of our current customers into Digi capabilities and how we can better support their business and technology needs.

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?

Although in the past few years a lot of things have change for women in the technology field, I think we are still working towards a more inclusive environment. The percentage of women in this space is still small, and I believe this underrepresentation limits our ability to find role models and mentors that can guide us along the way.

More specifically I believe we need a more focused outreach for young girls interested in science to educate them about job opportunities in STEM fields. As women, we also need to take more chances and be confident on accepting new responsibilities to showcase our abilities, we need our peers to support us as well.

Both ideas encompass the need for more mentorship opportunities for women who are emerging leaders in their fields. It allows women to share their personal stories and success demonstrating peers and younger generations that pursuing a STEM career is not only rewarding but that there is room for them to develop their own path.

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?

Programmers are still predominantly male in technology fields. This problem starts in early education, girls are not encouraged to pursue the type of hobbies or classes that would prepare them to select technology as a professional path. This problem is increased by the lack of role models to encourage young girls to pursue STEM careers.

Luckily, the industry is recognizing the low number of women and the issue is steadily changing with programs such as Girls Who Code and industry STEM events that bring women in technology together with girls considering STEM careers.

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 perception that you can’t be ‘true to yourself’ and you must become someone that will fit in and not be feminine. Most companies want you to do your job and will embrace individualism as long as it doesn’t interfere with the business. Blending in doesn’t need to be part of the job, women should not believe that they have to bury their individualism as that itself can bring out their creativity in the workplace.

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.)

Through the years I have been involved in technology I have learnt a great deal about what is needed from me to keep growing and how I should drive myself to continue evolving in this industry:

  • The importance of keeping your skills relevant. Specifically in technology, things change constantly, and we need to stay up to date with those changes. Constant learning is a must, continue getting certifications and getting further training on things you already know to make yourself the expert.
  • Make your boss look good and plan for succession. Even though this is two pieces of advice they go well together. I find it is important to remember that ultimately the business needs to succeed which requires achieving the company strategic goals. Secondly, your personal success is reflective of how well your team performs and achieves their goals.
  • Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Asking for help and support in tasks that you cannot take on by yourself is not a sign of weakness or lack of expertise. On the contrary, asking for help demonstrates that you trust your coworkers, that you can be a team player and that you are aware of your limitations. It will help the whole team thrive.

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

I have two pieces of advice. The first one is value each and every one of your team members. All employees want to be valued for their contribution and abilities; women are no different in wanting to be recognized for their talents. I have found that women need to be empowered and encouraged to realize they should be speaking up and taking on challenging roles. One way to help them is through mentoring, which allows them to focus on the obstacles that may be holding them back. A common trap that women fall into is trying to do everything by themselves. Prioritization of what is critical and asking for help will not only boost how they are perceived by their peers but will also help them grow professionally.

As a manager, I work with each member of my team to understand their strengths and weaknesses to best position them for success and by extension, success for the team and ultimately the company.

Also, I suggest teaming up with HR in the hiring process to encourage the team to look beyond the norm when reviewing resumes. In general, people are comfortable with what they know and taking a risk on something new takes them out of their comfort zone, choosing to interview and hire different backgrounds is extremely important to minimize groupthink and challenge new ways of solving problems. At the end we all want to hire the best candidate for the job and for the team.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Develop and hire strong managers and team leads who understand your vision and then get out of the way. The team must be empowered to make decisions, take risks, and sometimes fail. Don’t micromanage but be there to support them and back them up.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been many people who helped me grow, explore, and adapt to changing professional and personal needs. Working in the oil and gas industry for 20 years was an opportunity for me to be part of a rapidly changing advancement in technology that was surprisingly open to newcomers.

Early in my career my company hosted a Chinese delegation of engineers who as part of their World Bank funded project was given a 2-week tour of geologic and oil landmarks of the western United States. The lead geologist and reservoir engineer selected me to participate in the field trip. It was a great honor and statement of my leadership capabilities. Opportunities like this, that stick with you, encourage you to take chances to grow in ways that aren’t always linear.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

When I moved into management, I realized there were very few women which I could look up to and follow on their footsteps. For the reason I created a networking group for women in similar technology fields so we could learn from each other.

I few years back I founded the mentoring group ‘Women in Technology Networking’ (WITNET), through which women would be able to support fellow women in technology and the unique challenges they face.

I wanted to create a space to empower each other. We encourage women already in the industry to step up and fight for their careers and to become mentors creating a community for young women to choose a path in technology, helping them understand that together we can overcome challenges and achieve all the goals we set for ourselves.

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. 🙂

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

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing” by W Edward Deming

Mr. Deming has many quotes I like because they are practical and intuitive. Innovation of process to improve business practices can’t happen if you can’t explain what you are doing. Maintainability, consistency, and repeatability of a product and services cannot be achieved at scale if there isn’t a process.

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 🙂

Ann Bancroft, the American artic adventurer and teacher. I am inspired by pioneers and the hardships they endure to explore new places and ideas. Ann lives in Minnesota which makes this wish seem possible. The artic and Antarctica are extremely hostile environments and she has been a part of successful expeditions on both polar caps.

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