How women factory workers are breaking the mold at John Deere
At John Deere, they believe that when they strengthen the diversity of their workforce, they improve their ability to innovate. Diversity brings new ideas, better decisions, and stronger connections to the vibrant world within and around us all. It's a true competitive advantage for their company.
There's no more important role in their company in which they promote diversity and its benefits than in their factory managers. They lead the people who manufacture, improve, and support the machines upon which John Deere's success ultimately depends. By developing and promoting women to these vital roles, John Deere does more than simply drive higher levels of performance, they drive our industry toward gender equality, they help protect their shared environment, and they make their communities better.
Paying it forward
There's no place that Rosalind "Roz" Fox, factory manager at John Deere Des Moines Works, would rather be than among the workers and high-tech manufacturing equipment of the 3.5 million-square-foot facility. “Every day, we take hunks of metal and transform them into majestic machines,” she says.
Rosalind is the youngest of six children and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. “We lived in government-subsidized housing, but I had no idea we were poor,” Rosalind said. “We loved each other very much, and my parents worked very hard to make sure we had lights, gas, and food. They raised us to be very independent, strong-willed, and taught us that we could do anything we set our minds to.”
After high school, Rosalind worked part-time stocking shelves at a department store after being fired from a fast-food restaurant. But with her father’s support, Rosalind graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with an electrical engineering degree, then earned her master’s in industrial engineering. While working as factory manager for a legendary American automaker, a recruiter offered her an interview with John Deere.
Rosalind took the job. "And all of a sudden, I'm at a place where everyone was so nice and welcoming." While she had some doubts about John Deere, they were put to rest when Rosalind made a work trip to South Africa where she visited smallholder farmers using John Deere products. "When I saw that our work was truly changing people’s lives, that was the moment I decided I was going to stay with John Deere," she recalls. "I’ll never forget it."
The first Black female factory manager in John Deere history, Rosalind pays it forward. At John Deere, she's focusing on developing future female leaders. "If I can do it, they can do it," says Rosalind. "It’s not about how you start, it's how you end. If you look at all the struggles I had early — if I can get through that and have some level of success, you absolutely can do it. Step up to the challenge."
Maximizing diversity and sustainability
Of the dozen manufacturing facilities John Deere operates in the United States, six are led by women, including Jena Holtberg-Benge, General Manager, John Deere Reman. She provides global leadership for our remanufacturing division that employs approximately 650 people and distributes remanufactured John Deere parts worldwide. That includes overseeing production at our remanufacturing facilities in Springfield and Stafford, Missouri, and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Jena is a strong believer in the value of remanufacturing to provide quality products to customers, while meeting John Deere’s global sustainability goals – reusing material through remanufacturing.
And she's a big believer in diversity. “We need a shift in thinking about diversity and what it can bring to the company,” says Jena. “Our workforce needs to reflect our community. What really motivates me has been our ability to attract an extremely talented diverse workforce."
John Deere Reman sells in over 100 countries globally. "Diversity has really helped us understand our customer base. In Reman, we’re seeing significantly improved shareholder value add and operating return on operating assets. By having a diverse leadership team, John Deere Reman has been able to deliver on financial results, including improved margins."
Jena e has been able to achieve these results by taking a less hierarchical approach to leadership. "The old-school factory manager model of telling people what to do can’t succeed in a diverse climate. Through our Smart Industrial redesign, we're flattening our organization. This new approach gets everyone engaged in striving toward the same goals."
Jena received the Remanufacturing Industries Council’s (RIC) ACE award for its mission to Advocate, Collaborate, and Educate on behalf of the industry. She earned the Collaborate Award for her "strong leadership, enthusiasm, and collaborative spirit" chairing the Remanufacturing Alliance that promotes the industry, according to RIC.
Linking company to community
When Becky Guinn, factory manager at John Deere’s Waterloo Works, thinks about the responsibilities that come with running one of the company’s most iconic facilities she doesn’t limit herself to the four walls that surround her. And she doesn’t want her team to think that way either.
Becky has been an energetic and effective advocate in recognizing what the area's largest employer can bring by way of addressing hunger, housing, economic growth, diversity, and workforce development. She's very clear in her expectations: You have two jobs with John Deere, one inside the factory and one outside the factory.
Becky has "partnered" members of her leadership team with an outside non-profit group – like Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity or the Northeast Iowa Food Bank – and helped strengthen that link between the area's largest employer and the identified areas of greatest need in the community. It's all part of the "intentional presence" Becky said is needed within John Deere’s home communities.
Becky took the factory’s leadership role in September 2019, nearly a year after the financial website 24/7 Wall Street called Waterloo the worst city in America for Blacks to live. In her two-plus years in the role, her efforts haven't gone unnoticed.
"Never before have I worked with someone with as sincere intentions to use the influence and resources of their company to improve this community as Becky," Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said.
Despite the challenges brought on by a pandemic, Waterloo Works employees continued to remain active in the key areas of community engagement and worked collaboratively on plans to attract and retain top talent and make Waterloo a pipeline for diverse talent. With the leadership of Becky and her team, community investment and volunteerism have increased significantly.
PARTNER CONTENT: Developed in collaboration to support IWD's Women Forging Change Mission.