Women Leading; Then and Now
Business Owner; Strong; Shrewd; Visionary; Successive; Competitive; Leadership; Commitment
While these words could describe many business leaders today, the caveat is a very unique company that can claim 187 years of continuous operation! In 1818, Brandywine Iron Works & Nail Factory (later Lukens Iron and Steel Company) produced the first boilerplate.
The company experienced many name changes, but one name holds a distinguished place. Rebecca Lukens, the indomitable force behind Lukens Iron and Steel. Also a 31-year-old wife, mother of five, and pregnant with her sixth child. In 1824, she was unexpectedly called upon at her father’s deathbed to continue the family business and legacy. And just a year later, she was called upon again when her husband Charles, the business manager, died at the age of 39. Rebecca made a promise to him that she would continue the business.
Interestingly, the iron and steel industry experienced massive growth with the first Industrial Revolution. New machines, manufacturing processes, and technological developments were on the rise, as was the demand to build railways, bridges, ships, and smaller items like boilerplates. In 1834, Lukens Iron and Steel profited and was a leader in the production of boilerplates for locomotives and iron rails for the railroad.
Rebecca Lukens certainly faced objections and setbacks. Her capabilities were challenged at every turn. She learned to deal with employees, suppliers, bankers, doubtful businessmen, and greedy family members. She held strong. She fulfilled her promise to her husband.
She was a shrewd business manager. She paid off all debts. She rebuilt and expanded the entire steel facility. In 1846, being the industrial pioneer that she was, she obtained ownership of the entire ironworks.
Consequently, Rebecca was a strong businesswoman. Through challenges and complexities hard to imagine even today, she persevered. By 1853, she had earned full title to the business. Think about that accomplishment for a moment. It was only 33 years ago women were able to access business loans without a male co-signer! The Women’s Business Ownership Act became law in 1988.
In 1998, 173 years after Rebecca Lukens took the leadership reins, Lukens Iron and Steel was purchased by Bethlehem Steel. And, 200 years after her birth, she was recognized by the Pennsylvania Legislature and the City of Coatesville as America’s first woman industrialist, Fortune Magazine called her “America’s first female CEO of an industrial company”.
Courageous, resilient, purposeful, and tenacious. Rebecca Lukens was a woman well ahead of her time.
Time and Technology
A psychologist and industrial engineer. A pioneering physicist, mathematician, and space scientist.
The titles above describe the roles of women whose chosen professions played a significant role in our world. These women took risks, persevered, collaborated, had a vision, used their voice, and made a difference. Their contributions, fortitude, and talents paved the way for advancing women’s roles in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Where would manufacturing be today without continuous improvement and computers to measure time and efficiency? We can thank Lillian Gilbreth. Born in 1878, she was an American psychologist, industrial engineer, and educator. Her perspective of the workplace was that it could be better for the worker. She set about improving workplace efficiency in jobs performed by both men and women.
Lillian and her husband, also an engineer, studied the human factor in industrial settings. Their Motion Study (1911) was an important research publication. It presented data and analysis of the number of human movements and the amount of time taken to complete a specific task, raising awareness of the human dynamics and dimensions in work.
What would NASA missions have been without the precise calculations of Katherine Johnson? Born in 1918, she showed great talent in math at an early age. At 14 she graduated from high school. And, in 1937 at the age of 18, graduated summa cum laude with degrees in Math and French.
Katherine began working at NASA in 1953 performing mathematical calculations alongside Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, also talented mathematicians. Johnson went on to analyze critical data and compute complex formulas. She participated in meetings and was the first woman to have her name on a NASA report. In addition, she calculated the trajectory for the 1961 space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Katherine also calculated the launch window for his 1961 Mercury mission. It was John Glenn who specifically asked for Katherine Johnson to verify the computer numbers before his orbit around Earth.
Confident, assertive, and a woman on a mission! Katherine Johnson’s reputation for accuracy earned her great respect. These are just two examples of women role models who challenged the norms of their time and excelled. Both independent, strong-willed women who had the fortitude, courage, and strength required to lean in, lead and create a legacy.
March is Women’s History Month. In tribute and celebration, I thank all the women who have brought us forward in so many ways to achieve so many milestones in education, science, business, medicine, technology, family, and community.
By Diane Gibson, President & Founder, DMG Consultancy, Ltd, a management consulting firm focused on accelerating business performance by developing leaders and building great teams
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