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Watch Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz as she shares what excites her about the future of manufacturing for professional women.

Leading Women in Manufacturing is a video series showcasing female role models in the sector who, by sharing their career journeys and lessons learned, are aiming to inspire and advance tomorrow's women leaders in manufacturing. 

Behnaz Saboonchi: Hi everyone. Welcome to this episode of Women in Manufacturing. My name is Behnaz Saboonchi, a partner at EY and I’ve the great pleasure of talking with Linda Hasenfratz today. Thank you so much, Linda, for joining us. We're thrilled to have you.

Linda Hasenfratz: It's a real pleasure to be here. I’m really looking forward to our chat.

Behnaz Saboonchi: Fantastic, let’s get started. Linda, you are a leading professional woman in the industry. You have distinguished yourself as the CEO of the year, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year, and you're the recipient of the Order of Canada, among many other accomplishments. So, when you think about it, where do you see the opportunities and what excites you the most when you think about the future of manufacturing for professional women?

Linda Hasenfratz: Yeah, I think the whole manufacturing industry is actually at one of the most exciting times in history. And that's just because of the evolution of the industry. As we’re evolving from manufacturing to advanced manufacturing. And what that means is we're taking sort of traditional manufacturing processing and intersecting it with modern technology. In many ways, we're becoming more of a technology industry than anything else as we use the enormous power of computing and sensors to do more in the way of machine learning and artificial intelligence and automate more.

What's interesting about that is the jobs are evolving, and I think that's what's interesting for women in particular, because the industry is changing so much and there's all these new jobs that I feel will be very appealing to women.

Behnaz Saboonchi: That's fantastic, Linda! So, I would like to discuss about Linamar itself and some of the programs and initiatives it has put in place in the past decade. So, you have been exposed to the industry for many years, and over those years you've been always giving back, sharing your experience and your learnings and sometimes through collaborations with other female-focused organizations, let's say, such as Catalyst.

So, can you please walk us through some of those programs that Linamar has put in place to attract and grow female talent, but also, more importantly, to inspire women overall or even pave the way for them to get started into the industry?

Linda Hasenfratz: Yeah, absolutely. Diversity and inclusion has been a really important part of our agenda for the last several years, not just in terms of gender, but also in terms of ethnicity and trying to ensure that we're representing a variety of demographics and folks within our leadership teams and within our organization. And I think that, first of all, to achieve what we're trying to achieve in the coming years, we're going to need thousands of people.

So we absolutely need to tap into 100% of the population and really maximize our access to the talent pool. And that's part of why diversity and inclusion is important. I think it's also important because diverse teams just perform better. We find better decision-making, thinking about things from a variety of perspectives and really just better results. So, it's really been an important area for us.

And when I think about how do we achieve our diversity goals, the first step for sure is going to be externally to the company, interestingly. Of course, there's many things we're doing internally, but it's important to help develop the talent pool outside of the organization from which we can recruit from. So, there's a lot we're doing in that perspective in the area of trades, for instance, to attract more women into trades, we do things at all levels.

So, in grade seven and eight, we have summer camps that we hold for girls and teach them about trades. When we get to the high school level, we have evenings, dinners and lunches that we host that include women in trades as mentors that the high school girls can learn from and appreciate more about the opportunities in the trades.

And then once they graduate, we have a very robust program for women apprentices and trying to increase the number of female apprentices that we have. We have about 20 at the moment and the number is growing. So that's been a great area for us. When it comes to engineering, probably a little more focus at the post-secondary level.

So, we have a scholarship program, for instance, that we've established with Western University in their dual-degree engineering and Ivy business program. So, we support ten women per year in that program. We pay for half their tuition; we offer them jobs in the summer and a job on graduation. So, it's been a really great program for us and we've met so many incredible young women.

It's been a really rewarding program. And then I would say more broadly, and probably one of the programs that we're most proud of, is our See it. Be it. STEM it. program, or SBS for short. And in this program, what we're trying to do is encourage more young women into trades and all the areas of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — through the use of role models.

So, we've created a website, and there we have nearly 300 role models in all kinds of different areas of STEM and trades to hopefully inspire young women they see somebody they can relate to in some way. And hopefully that inspires them to also pursue a career in that area. And then we also take 12 of those women every year and feature them in a calendar.

And we really love this project because it gives us the opportunity to profile the women in a little more detail. And again, just give more avenues for young women to relate and connect to somebody. And the whole idea of See it. Be it. STEM it. is that if you can see it, you can be it. And the idea is let's get these into classrooms so that young women — and young men as well — every month will meet a new inspiring woman in STEM, learn about all the different careers that are out there and hopefully make that choice as they graduate school.

Behnaz Saboonchi: They feel like it's possible to be one.

Linda Hasenfratz: Yeah, exactly. I think that's exactly it, because there's way too much rhetoric around, oh, there's not enough women here, oh there's not many women there. When, in fact, that's so not true. The numbers have evolved over the last 20 years. We have quite a lot of women in all kinds of areas of STEM and trades. And the numbers just keep growing.

So, if we talk more about that, then people are inspired to go down that road.

Behnaz Saboonchi: Wow. That is amazing! Some of the initiatives you just shared that Linamar is putting into place to pave the way for more diverse talent to get into the space. That's awesome! Now I would like to switch gears a little bit about Canada itself. So, I would love to know your views around where do you see the opportunities of Canada and its manufacturing sector in the future. And how it's going to play a role into solving some of the world's toughest problems? Let's say our net-zero ambitions, our energy transition strategy. So where do you see the world for Canada?

Linda Hasenfratz: Yeah, I think the coming decades are going to be such an exciting time for Canada in particular. And notably around manufacturing for several reasons. But one notable reason being how clean our energy grid is in this country. And I think that's a massive advantage that we haven't advertised as much as we should. I mean Canada's energy grid is north of 85% clean and Ontario itself is 94% clean energy.

And that matters a lot. It matters because where you manufacture things is going to put, let's say, a carbon price on everything you're making. And the fact is, making it here in Ontario or Canada more broadly means less of a carbon price. And that is going to matter more and more. We're already seeing it matter with our customers, our shareholders, our bankers, our employees.

Everybody cares a lot. And I think that is only going to increase in the coming decades. And what that means is what an amazing position for us here in Ontario, in Canada, in terms of growth in the advanced manufacturing industry. So again, meaning huge opportunities for jobs and building careers in an industry that is doing some really important things.

First of all, lots of technology, lots of innovation, just really fascinating things that are happening in terms of new products and new processes. And solving some of the world's biggest problems, whether it be around climate change or food production in a sustainable way or availability of water for the world.

These are problems that the manufacturing industry is solving. So, I feel like it's such a meaningful industry to be in. And also, one with really huge opportunity.

Behnaz Saboonchi: And a great one to actually launch your career in, right. So, when it comes to our STEM and engineering graduates when you think about it, this is a great one, with a great and bright future to step into.

Linda Hasenfratz: Absolutely. I agree completely.

Behnaz Saboonchi: Thank you so much, Linda, for sharing. That was very insightful. So, we talked about the opportunities in Canada. We agree that diverse talent is going to be a crucial lever to capture those opportunities for Canada.  But there's also work to be done.  When you look at the manufacturing sector, still the representation of women in the workforce is lower than some other industries.

So where do you see the evolution, especially, when you compare it to, let's say, two decades ago?

Linda Hasenfratz: Good question. And I agree, the representation of women in the manufacturing industry is a little lower than, say, broadly in business. But I think you also have to look at it with the perspective of how much evolution there's been over the last 20 years.  So, we're close to 30% in the industry today. I mean, 20 years ago it was a fraction of that.

So, I think it's been really exciting actually to see just in my own career how many more women are in the industry today than were when I started. Today, there're so many more women in every area, from purchasing to engineering and beyond. And great to see also so many women in leadership as well. I mean, you look at the CEO of one of the largest automotive companies in the world, is a woman and engineer, by the way, and doing an amazing job. And we're seeing more and more of that. So, it's definitely evolving and I feel like momentum is building. So, I think it's really exciting. And I also think that as we evolve further down this road of advanced manufacturing and new jobs evolving that are more technology focused, more about programming, logistics and automation and all these exciting areas that will naturally attract a broader demographic in terms of the folks that are looking to come into the industry.

Behnaz Saboonchi: Indeed, I can totally relate. When I started engineering school more than 20-odd years ago and exactly I've seen the same evolution of things progressing in the right direction.

Linda Hasenfratz: Yeah, absolutely. You know, as an example, people were always saying, there's not enough women in engineering, but University of Toronto’s Engineering school is 43% women. That's amazing. I mean, and that's a statistic that just isn't cited often enough. It's almost there in terms of a balance of gender in the program. And we're just seeing more and more of that all over the place.

Behnaz Saboonchi: Indeed, Linda, these are very, very exciting times. So, I would like to finish our conversations on a very high note. I would like to invite you to think about 20 years from now. So, where would you like to see women or more diverse talent in the manufacturing sector?

Linda Hasenfratz: Well, I mean, my vision would be proportionate representation. That's our goal internally. I think it should be our goal more broadly. I think we're absolutely on the road towards that. Again, looking at the momentum that's built over the last 20 years, we’re almost 30%. That's more than halfway towards a goal of 50%. So, we're definitely on track.

And I do think that the evolution of the industry is going to only accelerate the momentum and the opportunities for women in manufacturing. So, I really look forward to that time when we have a great diverse talent pool within the industry.

Behnaz Saboonchi: Have the same dream, have the same wish. Linda, this has been extremely positive, insightful and, above all, very, very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us. This has been a great conversation.

Linda Hasenfratz: Wonderful. It's been my pleasure.

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