Maria Piastre, a Colombian immigrant and Kean University graduate with just one year of publishing experience under her belt, joined Metallix Refining in Shrewsbury in 2006 as a buyer for Latin America.
Last fall, after continued mentorship from the company’s owner and former president, she was promoted to president at the nearly 50-year-old precious metals recycler, where more than 30 percent of her colleagues are women.
“I know that having a female president in manufacturing may come as a surprise to many, but it’s not impossible or even strange,” Piastre said.
Piastre was one of three New Jersey women recognized for her leadership and achievements with a 2018 STEP Ahead Award — which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Production — from the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute.
Mariacristina Castelli, executive director of clinical pharmacology at Noven Pharmaceuticals in Jersey City, and Suzanne Chevrier, channel relations specialist for Sandvik Coromant Co. in Fair Lawn, also were among the 130 women honored Tuesday at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.
Nearly 700 people attended the event.
“More than ever, we are seeing companies with strong female leadership across the board,” Carolyn Lee, executive director of the Manufacturing Institute, said. “In the sixth year of STEP Ahead, we are continuing to add to this esteemed group of women leaders who will remain ambassadors for the industry, learn from each other and pay it forward with the knowledge they’ve gained from this unique experience.”
The Manufacturing Institute, the 501(c)(3) affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, launched the STEP Ahead initiative in 2012 to further the development of world-class manufacturing talent by improving the perception of careers in the industry among younger generations and, especially, women, who currently make up just 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce.
Since 2013, the Manufacturing Institute has annually awarded the STEP Ahead Award to honor women who demonstrate excellence and leadership in their careers and represent all levels of the manufacturing industry, from the factory floor to the C-suite.
“These inspirational women have stepped up as leaders in our industry, building the future of manufacturing and our country,” Jay Timmons, CEO and president of the National Association of Manufacturers and chairman of the Manufacturing Institute, said. “They set a powerful example as we seek to bring more people, especially women, into modern manufacturing.
“Manufacturers have an urgent need for talented new workers to join us, and we have rewarding, well-paying careers to offer. Women are under-represented in the industry, so there’s an incredible opportunity before us, and STEP Ahead is helping us seize it.”
Castelli said one of the most satisfying aspects of her career has been the incredible opportunity to build a successful team of scientists — many of whom, she added, are women — at Noven Pharmaceuticals, the stand-alone operating subsidiary of Japan-based Hisamitsu Pharmaceutical Co.
“I believe it is important for employers to empower teams to make decisions,” Castelli said. “A healthy company puts a lot of effort into narrowing the gaps between technical teams and upper management, as well as not only hiring individuals who share the same values while bringing diversity of background, thinking, gender, and experience, but also rewarding achievement and productivity.”
Castelli, mother to a 13-year old daughter and a 16-year old son, said she particularly is fond of Noven Pharmaceuticals’ flexible telecommuting arrangement and liberal paid-time-off benefits at its Jersey City location.
“Companies who offer flexible working hours certainly allow for more women to be part of the work force and achieve managerial positions,” she said.
Still, Castelli said she spends nearly half of her time working, a third of her time sleeping, 15 percent with her family, and just 5 percent on herself in terms of fitness and socializing.
It is challenging work that deserves to be recognized, she said.
“I am aware that as Noven is a pay-for-performance company, they do also review all salaries every year by performance and gender to make sure that we do not have a gender bias in our company,” Castelli said. “That practice would be beneficial everywhere.”
Chevrier said she, too, has had an “easy” go of it in the manufacturing industry.
“I know that there have been many struggles for women in the male-dominated field of manufacturing — fortunately, I have had long-term employment with two employers who greatly value diversity and put an emphasis on making sure that they ultimately select the right person for the job,” she said.
Chevrier said she previously worked for a small tool-and-die metal stampings company that relied entirely on the automotive industry.
“Early in my career, I held positions in both production control and purchasing, earning a good salary and a lot of flexibility in working hours to accommodate my family,” she said.
However, when the company went out of business due to outsourcing in 2005, Chevrier said her search for work with a company that could offer her more in terms of employee skills development led her to a position in customer service at Sandvik Coromant in Fair Lawn, the U.S. headquarters of the Sweden-based global industrial engineering group known for manufacturing tools and machine technologies.
“Now, in channel relations, the job is never stagnant,” she said. “I am constantly learning and growing.”
Research by the Manufacturing Institute, Deloitte and APICS Supply Chain Council found that STEP Ahead honorees are promoted more often, have a clearer vision of their career path and are committed to encouraging and mentoring future generations of women to pursue manufacturing careers.
Piastre said she, too, enjoyed learning from other women in leadership positions about their struggles and successes at the event Tuesday.
“I graduated from college, worked one year in publishing, and then spent 13 years in precious metals — that is all I really know,” she said. “Having the opportunity to network with women in manufacturing across all different industries is invaluable.”
Not New Jersey
There was an unfortunate common thread between the three women from New Jersey honored with the 2018 STEP Ahead Award by the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute:
They all work for companies that no longer manufacture in New Jersey.
“The taxes here are too high and it is important, more than ever, for our industry to keep our costs down,” Maria Piastre, president of Metallix Refining, said.
Piastre works with just 15 out of nearly 100 companywide employees at the corporate offices in Shrewsbury, while two manufacturing facilities operate in North Carolina.
“We used to have a refinery in Jersey City, but it was an old facility,” Piastre said. “When we decided 15 years ago that we needed to move, the economic development team of North Carolina presented us with a very good deal.”
The company purchased a second facility in North Carolina in 2015.
Sandvik Coromant in Fair Lawn also no longer manufactures in New Jersey after moving its facilities to North Carolina in 2006. Just 100 employees out of the nearly 450 in the U.S. and the nearly 7,900 employees worldwide work at the U.S. headquarters in Fair Lawn.
Noven Pharmaceuticals, which conducts clinical research, regulatory affairs, finance and business development at its location in Jersey City, employs just 25 in New Jersey and 330 employees worldwide, as its manufacturing facilities are located in Florida.