Girls in Small Trade: Kathie Leonard created her personal occupation ladder at Auburn Production

Kathie Leonard, president and CEO of Auburn Production, stands in entrance of a huge loom lately. Andree Kehn/Solar Magazine

MECHANIC FALLS — Recent out of school and new to Maine within the early Seventies, a tender Kathie Leonard used to be embarking on a occupation she had little likelihood of succeeding in, should you believed the chances. She used to be a tender lady operating in a male-dominated mill in Lewiston the place, amongst different issues, they made an commercial cloth to interchange asbestos.

At about the similar time, Katharine Graham turned into the primary feminine leader govt officer of a Fortune 500 corporate, after taking the reins because the writer of the Washington Submit newspaper.

They had been important milestones at a time when women folk owned about 400,000 companies, or 4.6% of all companies within the nation, in step with the federal Small Trade Management. As archaic because it sounds, women folk on this nation who sought after to take out a enterprise mortgage needed to have a male family member co-sign for the mortgage till 1988. Nowadays, the SBA says there are over 13 million women-owned companies within the U.S., or more or less 42% of overall companies, producing just about $2 trillion in income.

“I used to be in at the flooring flooring of promoting an commercial cloth that used to be designed to interchange asbestos. And also you don’t have any thought what number of programs there are the place asbestos used to be used,” Leonard mentioned.

Now not simply in automobile brakes and in ceiling tiles and ground tiles, however as mechanical insulation on ships and as insulation wrapped round pipes right through the petroleum business — anyplace there used to be excessive warmth, Leonard defined.

“I fell in love with it, it used to be simply such a lot a laugh!” mentioned she. Over the following 3 years, Leonard honed her advertising and marketing talents via her writing and what she calls her talent to provide an explanation for issues concisely. She mentioned she took calls from engineers and spoke back their technical questions, even dabbling in industry presentations, the place she used to be the one lady at the back of a sales space.

After 3 years, Leonard mentioned she used to be in a position to take the next move and make more cash. She and a male spouse based Auburn Production and not seemed again. “Principally, it used to be about having a greater occupation. I sought after to develop, and at the moment there weren’t numerous ladders for girls. So while you get started your individual enterprise, you create your individual ladder. And that’s what I did.”

The fast-term objectives had been easy, mentioned Leonard: pay the hire and purchase garments for her kid — to have a circle of relatives and now not have to fret such a lot about her subsequent paycheck. That used to be essential to her, as a result of she’d grown up with no lot as a child and mentioned she simply didn’t need to do this the remainder of her lifestyles. At 27 years outdated, Leonard mentioned she didn’t have any long-term objectives. “I simply didn’t have any concept that it will ultimate this lengthy.”


The president and CEO mentioned she struggled within the early days to be revered as a enterprise skilled within the production enviornment. “Everyone who got here to our enterprise concept I used to be the secretary,” she mentioned. “They’d are available and so they’d suppose that any individual else — a male — used to be the boss and that I used to be . . .”

She shrugs it off now as only a signal of the days, however admits it used to be disconcerting. “I had a spouse who used to be superb about pronouncing ‘Oh, you wish to have to speak to her.’ And I’ve been fortunate like that. Numerous guys do this and it’s very a lot liked.”

Leonard mentioned she lacked self assurance and used to be nervous within the early years as neatly.

“After I communicate to different women folk they need to listen that tale — ‘how did you do this?’ and ‘how did it really feel?’ — as a result of that’s actual,” she mentioned.

Maximum of Leonard’s enjoy used to be on-the-job coaching. She didn’t get a grasp’s level in commercial generation or engineering. “I went via a factor the place I assumed I shouldn’t be on this task,” she mentioned. “I’m simply an ordinary gal.”

It took her a few years to realize self assurance. Leonard mentioned she did it via perseverance, going again to university and finding out economics, human assets and accounting, all of the talents they’d to make use of to run the enterprise. She calls herself a “cookbook learner” as a result of she likes the instructions — display her the way to do one thing and she or he’s excellent.

“I additionally simply saved forcing myself to do issues,” Leonard defined. “The primary time I were given requested to talk in public I used to be scared to loss of life. And I took a Dale Carnegie route and discovered how to do this and simply compelled myself to do it, and I were given via it. It’s been 43 years and it’s been tricky, however I’m comfy in my very own pores and skin now, nevertheless it took relatively some time.”


Girls have made important growth within the enterprise international up to now 50 years on this nation, however a variety of problems stay at the leading edge, amongst them being the gender pay hole and the proportion of ladies in most sensible management positions.

As a trademark of ways women folk have stepped forward in Maine, Maine’s Girls’s Trade Listing is a public listing of women-owned companies around the state with some 200 companies at the listing. The Maine Girls’s Community mentioned it represents and helps loads of ladies in enterprise within the state. The College of Maine enterprise college has a Girls in Trade group, whilst Coastal Enterprises Inc., or CEI, has a Girls’s Trade Middle curious about women folk who need to get started a enterprise or develop their enterprise in Maine.

Leonard is of the same opinion issues are so much more uncomplicated for girls these days than they had been when she first began out in enterprise. “I believe the more youthful women folk have made it more uncomplicated for us, for everyone,” she mentioned. “My age staff led the best way, nevertheless it used to be a rocky highway. Those gals bobbing up are simply comfy in their very own pores and skin at all times and I surprise at them, and it makes us all really feel extra comfy. Now there’s extra women folk in each and every staff.”

But women folk are nonetheless within the minority within the production box right here. Leonard mentioned that’s why she believes publicity to STEM-based schooling — an acronym that stands for science, generation, engineering and math — is particularly essential for ladies previous in lifestyles.

Consistent with the U.S. Trade Division, women folk make up lower than one-third of the 15.8 million other folks hired in production industries, and 1 in 4 production leaders are women folk. Census information display that employees in production make extra source of revenue than the typical employee. And whilst women folk in production make greater than the median for girls, they nonetheless make handiest 72% of the median male wage within the business. With production turning into increasingly more high-tech, some really feel producers possibility overlooking extremely professional employees by means of now not recruiting women folk.

Auburn Production actively recruits women folk, Leonard mentioned. “Now we have relatively a couple of women folk in manufacturing, even in weaving, the place that didn’t was once a girl’s task. However with the apparatus that we have got that is helping transfer issues round — you don’t have so that you can raise heavy issues, and so they’re superb at it.”

Reflecting on her 43 years on the helm of her corporate, Leonard mentioned she’s amazed and completely pleased with the corporate they’ve constructed and the workers — lots of whom were together with her their whole careers — who’ve made all of it occur.

“I’ve grown into it and I’ve performed my homework most of these years and I believe now I’m excellent at it and I’m pleased with that,” she mentioned. “I’m so proud to have 50 other folks operating right here,” she emphasised. “It’s onerous paintings however they don’t thoughts that in case you have all of the different issues. Now we have advantages, we’ve a spot in Rangeley the place the workers can move and take their households. You are aware of it does have somewhat of the lifestyles steadiness to it. We’re now not that strict however we’re all about getting the product out the door.”

As to the growth women folk have made in enterprise because the Seventies?

“I believe you simply stay on keepin’ on,” Leonard mentioned. “To move from 4% to 43% that’s a large trade. So, you’re virtually part, will we must be greater than part?”

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