Paving Way for Women in Manufacturing, Karen Norheim Wins Champion for Industry Award

Karen Norheim standing in front of worksite

Throughout 2019, Thomas will be honoring the achievements of distinguished company leaders and managers in the manufacturing industry. Each month, we will present these respected pillars of industry with the Champion for Industry award. Nominated by their peers, Thomas Champions are leaders who embrace innovation, inspire their colleagues, dedicate themselves to finding trailblazing solutions, and drive business forward.

Karen Norheim, executive vice president of American Crane & Equipment Corp. — a leading manufacturer of overhead cranes and hoists — has been chosen as the latest Champion for Industry.

Creating a Dynamic Company Culture

After some initial reluctance to join the family business years ago, Norheim accepted her father’s offer to work for American Crane and hasn’t looked back since.

When Norheim started at American Crane, she joined a positive company culture already established by her father — a culture in which employees were always put first. The only problem was, the business was still relying on word of mouth to attract new talent.

Norheim knew she could reinvigorate and modernize the culture — and how it was communicated and represented to potential employees — in a way that would allow American Crane to better reach the candidates they sought.

“We needed to reboot this culture and solidify it with actual words, values, [and a] mission statement, and … encompass who we are,” says Norheim. “And that turned into our new mantra, which is ‘Grit matters’ — perseverance, heart, and integrity — and that’s how we choose to work at American Crane, with that mantra in mind. That translates into being passionate about pleasing our customers.”

The “grit matters” campaign enlivened American Crane’s culture, providing the entire team with an outlet to share successes and work through challenges across department lines, allowing for enhanced collaboration among many different teams — from administration to project management to engineering to welding.

To attract the younger generation to the world of manufacturing, Norheim leads facility tours for students of all ages, from elementary school to high school. These efforts are bolstered by regional manufacturing programs, such as the Dream It. Do It. PA initiative, which aims to promote awareness of advanced manufacturing careers among students and their adult family members, as well as educators.

Karen Norheim headshot
Karen Norheim

Supporting Women in Manufacturing

While Norheim has enjoyed a rewarding professional life, she acknowledges the hurdles involved in being one of few women in the manufacturing sphere.

“I noticed a long time ago that I was one of the few women in the room,” Norheim says of her early days in industry. “It is starting to change and shift. Here at American Crane, one of our biggest issues is [that] we just don’t get the [female] applicants. So I’ve really been trying to double down … [and] get the word out about us and our local community, and share this mission that we have [in order] to attract people to come and work for us.”

She’s also very active in Women in Manufacturing (WiM), a nonprofit trade association dedicated to promoting, supporting, and inspiring women in industry, whether they’re on the production floor or in a leadership role.

For women aspiring to a successful career in manufacturing or industry, or for those already in the field but looking to bolster their resume and gain new experience, Norheim stresses the importance of “looking for role models, looking for mentors, looking for people in the industry … [and] keeping an open mind.

“It’s not the same industry it was 10 to 20 years ago,” she explains. “It’s a really exciting place to kind of put your stamp on. Find a mentor who can help you navigate that path and help you figure out where you want to go.”

And for those who don’t know where to start? Norheim advises women to take stock of the opportunities nearby, and take advantage of existing networks. “Look local. Look to your connections. Look for industries that spark your interest.”

Keeping It Real

Above all, she says, keep an open mind and work on honing your skill set.

For Norheim, strong communication skills and a sense of humility have helped her immensely in forging a successful career.

“If you’re in a leadership role, you need to be able to not take yourself so seriously,” she laughs.

As humble as she is, there’s no doubt she’s made serious inroads in industry — at American Crane, and for the many women looking to break into the world of manufacturing.

Know an industry leader who deserves recognition? Submit your nomination for a Champion for Industry here.

Image Credit: Karen Norheim

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