Alcoa Wins Global Catalyst Award for Diversity Initiative
Alcoa has won the prestigious 2013 Catalyst Award, honoring innovative organizational approaches that address the recruitment, development, and advancement of women in the workplace. Alcoa’s initiative “Building Opportunities for Women in a ’Hard Hat‘ Company,” showcases how Alcoa broke down barriers in a male-dominated industry and achieved greater gender representation through an aggressive diversity agenda.
Since 1987, the Catalyst award has recognized exceptional business initiatives that advance women in the workplace and embodies Catalyst’s vision of “Changing workplaces, Changing lives.”
Below are profiles of five women at Alcoa working and succeeding in our global "Hard Hat" company. Take a look.
WOMEN IN A HARD HAT COMPANY
Working and living in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon at Alcoa’s Juruti Mine has accelerated—not hindered—Tharcila Peixoto’s personal and professional growth.
“I started my career as an intern at the mine in 2008, and six months later I was hired as a junior engineer in the maintenance engineering department and electrical shop,” said Tharcila. “I have grown significantly as a professional, but I also have grown personally by getting acquainted with the Amazon rainforest, the beautiful rivers that serve as Juruti’s principal means of transportation, and the region’s culture.”
Since childhood, Tharcila has enjoyed physics, computer science, and especially math. When it came time to choose a college major, she researched various professions and found that the automation field was broad, challenging, and had excellent career potential. The research paid off, since her degree in automation and control engineering has helped her quickly ascend Juruti Mine’s maintenance department.
She currently is a maintenance engineer responsible for the reliability of equipment, including a bauxite reclaimer that is one of the port area’s critical pieces of equipment. Her duties range from implementing reliability engineering; controlling and reporting maintenance indicators; conducting historical analysis of equipment; and doing engineering studies on failure analysis, cost reduction improvements, process optimization, and more.
“I work mainly with male colleagues, although the number of women in the Juruti workforce is growing,” said Tharcila. “I have encountered no issues with being a woman in my role. The important thing is to show dedication, professionalism, and focus to achieve a standard of perfection. I think women also have an entrepreneurial ability and a seriousness in facing challenges that bring a special touch to organizations.”
As someone who started her career working in a temporary office located in a cargo container during the Juruti Mine’s construction, Tharcila is excited about the opportunities ahead of her at both the mine and Alcoa locations around the world. Other aspects that keep her firmly connected to Alcoa are the appreciation for her work that she receives from her supervisors, the training and development available to her, and Alcoa’s responsible approach in its everyday operations.
“Alcoa prizes its employees,” said Tharcila. “It has well-defined values and principles, and it practices them. It also focuses on sustainability and social responsibility and strives to be among the best companies to work for. I think it undoubtedly is one of the best.”
Alcoa Massena Operations
New York, USA
When Kathy Therrien was a child, she often rode with her mother to Alcoa’s Massena Operations (USA) to pick up her father at the end of his shift. What she most remembers: seeing him ride a bicycle out of the massive plant to meet them. Today, Kathy is the one riding the bike—and driving a truck—as a third-generation Alcoan.
In addition to her father’s 23-year-career at Massena Works, Kathy’s paternal grandfather worked there for more than 30 years. Her maternal grandfather was also an Alcoan for a brief period. That family tradition continued when Kathy joined the plant in 1993.
Today, Kathy is a pre-heat operator in the ingot plant, transporting ingots to and from the furnaces and outside cooling areas. The work is physical, often dirty, mentally challenging, but always rewarding.
“Being a woman in a man’s world, as some would say, was hard at first,” said Kathy. “I had to prove that I could do the job and do it well. I remember one supervisor early in my career who said ‘Women don’t belong in this plant.’ When he retired, he shook the hand of every woman employee and said that he would have us on his team any day. That made me feel really good.”
Kathy continued to upend old stereotypes at the plant, first as a safety advisor and then a member of the fire brigade. Her counterparts on the brigade helped her learn the correct techniques so she could become a better firefighter. She had to leave the brigade after being diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, but she remains a safety advisor.
“I had major surgery and was out for three months,” she said. “The top people in the plant told me to call them for anything. My supervisors were really understanding if I had to leave early for an appointment, and they would take me aside and tell me to not give up. My coworkers were amazing as well. It picked up my spirits knowing that I was so appreciated by everyone at work.”
When she’s not at work, Kathy enjoys all types of crafts, especially scrapbooking. As a member of the Mohawk tribe, Kateri—her Native American name—also attends annual powwows to remain connected with the maternal side of her heritage.
The chance of having a fourth generation of her family work at Massena Operations is slim, as both of her children have pursued other careers. Kathy, however, is proud that she has upheld her family’s reputation as good workers.
“My boss just told me that he’s canceling my vacation because he doesn’t want me to leave,” she said.
Senior Development Metallurgist
Kitts Green, United Kingdom
Kim Chau has lived and worked in numerous countries, taking something from each experience and integrating it into her role as a senior development metallurgist at the Kitts Green facility in the United Kingdom.
“I have the work ethic from Malaysia, where I spent the first 17 years of my life, and the relaxed attitude and focus on safety that I picked up during my college and early work years in New Zealand,” said Kim, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical and materials engineering. “I combine these with the technological advances now accessible to me in Europe. Having the opportunity to experience so many cultures and work environments has helped me adapt quickly to new experiences and communicate better with people from varying backgrounds at all levels.”
Highly curious with a love for solving problems, Kim chose to pursue a technical rather than a commercial degree because she wanted to be behind-the-scenes in manufacturing. She also felt that such a degree offered more opportunities since she would be qualified to hold both technical and commercial roles.
After working as a corrosion engineer with a company in New Zealand, Kim joined the Kitts Green plant in 2008. She is responsible for identifying customer needs in the aerospace market, developing products to meet them, and then commercializing, launching, and supporting the new products. Her current focus is Alcoa’s new aluminum-lithium alloys, which help make airplanes more fuel-efficient. She also works to improve the existing line of aerospace products.
“I always find it amazing when I see a plane flying overhead and think how I may have witnessed the birth of some of its components,” said Kim. “It’s a great feeling to be involved with a product from the beginning.”
Kim stresses that her success has been due to the tremendous support she has received from Alcoa, including a temporary two-month position at Alcoa Singapore. She appreciates the time and money the company has invested in her and looks forward to what’s ahead.
“I have been married for little more than a year, and my husband lives in Germany,” she said. “We see each other every three to six weeks. I made the decision not to move with him because I believe I have a great job and wonderful opportunities at Alcoa.”
Kim’s passion for harnessing the power of technology goes beyond the workplace. In her spare time, she is pursuing solutions to overcome the lack of safe drinking water in Africa. Her focus is on drilling wells, and she has consulted with scientists at Alcoa Technical Center regarding the properties of aluminum drill pipe. She is also researching organizations already addressing the issue so potential solutions can be implemented quickly.
The importance of this work was underscored when Kim served as one of 11 Alcoa ambassadors to the 2012 One Young World summit in Pittsburgh (USA). The organization gives young leaders from around the world an opportunity to connect and create positive change.
“The summit was an eye-opening experience and showed that there are real opportunities for young people to have a voice in changing the world for the better,” she said.
San Ciprián, Spain
Soon after Eva Fernandez returned to San Ciprián (Spain) in 2010 from a three-year assignment at the Wenatchee Works in the United States, she became the first woman to hold the casthouse manager position—or any department manager position—at the plant.
Her accomplishment was all the more significant when she became pregnant with her second child two years after accepting the casthouse manager position. This wasn’t the first time she was challenged with balancing work and family life. While she was serving as management system coordinator and then casthouse manager at Wenatchee, Eva was in a foreign land raising a toddler on her own. She saw her husband and other family members about a total of two months per year.
“My coworkers at Wenatchee were wonderful, going beyond integrating me into the work team to having me join them and their families for many activities and events outside of work,” said Eva. “I also learned a lot from them. I returned to San Ciprián with many new management tools, especially regarding safety and the Alcoa Business System (ABS), that I shared with my coworkers. However, I think the biggest benefit of my experience working at another Alcoa location was that it taught me to think outside of the box and challenge my coworkers to break some paradigms or hidden rules that have been there forever to bring about change.”
Eva grew up in a small town near San Ciprián in a family of engineers, keeping up the tradition when she earned a chemical engineering degree. After working briefly for an engineering company, she joined Alcoa San Ciprián—one of the few industrial facilities in an area known for fishing and tourism—as an environmental engineer for the refinery and smelter.
After four years, she became the first-ever woman process engineer in the casthouse, which coincided with her first pregnancy. She emphasizes her condition never interfered with fulfilling her responsibilities for quality, process control, ABS, and more. In fact, she missed only one day of work during the entire time she was pregnant.
“I knew early on in my career at San Ciprián that I wanted to work in the casthouse,” she said. “It is the most exciting place. One day you can be visiting a customer, and the next you’re working on a model to calculate energy consumption or dealing with an internal human resources issue.”
All of her life, Eva has written down her goals and outlined the steps needed to achieve them, and so it was with the goal she set to lead the casthouse. When the opportunity arose to go to Wenatchee, she didn’t hesitate. It was on the path to becoming casthouse manager.
“I believe that my attitude has been a key element for my success,” she said. “I also think my career has been helped significantly by my experiences in various functional roles, such as production and ABS, and in different plants where I was exposed to other cultures and management systems.”
Today, 13 of the 100 casthouse employees at San Ciprián are female thanks, in part, to changing Spanish viewpoints of women in operational positions. Another significant factor—the ground Eva broke by being the casthouse’s first woman process engineer and manager.
Director of Operations
Alcoa Fastening Systems
Torrance, California, USA
At age 17, Natalia Soukhatchevskaia kissed her family goodbye in Moscow and boarded a plane bound for the United States. She knew no one at the other end, only that there was the opportunity for a better college education and career.
The drive and focus displayed at that early age has served her well. Just 14 years after her plane touched down in California, Natalia was named director of operations for the Alcoa Fastening Systems (AFS) location in Torrance (California, USA), leading 885 employees who manufacture six product lines.
Natalia’s steep career path started shortly after she graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in industrial and systems engineering, which was followed by an MBA. Her love of math and problem solving, combined with Russia’s strong science education system, made engineering a natural career choice. A college internship with Fairchild Fasteners, which was soon acquired by Alcoa, opened the door to her first position with AFS as an industrial engineer at the Torrance facility.
“I was attracted to the limitless opportunities I saw in the company,” said Natalia. “It was also an interesting time, because I got to participate in the plant’s transition to Alcoa’s deeply embedded health and safety culture.”
After seeing others get opportunities to advance that she didn’t, Natalia realized she had to identify what she wanted to do, communicate that to her supervisor, and take personal responsibility for preparing for the next level.
“I now believe in creating your own path and putting everything on the line to show you are capable of what you are doing and achieving what you want to achieve,” she said. “However, my success would not be possible without strong supporters along the way.”
She soon was named project engineer and then manufacturing manager for one of the smaller product lines. Her success led to managing larger and then multiple product lines, and she was given responsibility for the whole plant in August 2012.
Natalia’s quick to point out that her success and that of her plant is a team effort. She learned the importance and benefits of teamwork and good leadership early in life as a member of a Russian rhythmic gymnastics team for more than 10 years.
Natalia is involved with the Alcoa Women’s Network and sits on the board of directors for the Torrance Chamber of Commerce. She also supports initiatives aimed at increasing young girls’ interest in science and math, knowing from personal experience the benefits of such work starting early.
Outside of work, she “tests her patience” through golf and horseback riding. She also enjoys yoga and being outdoors.
“Alcoa prizes its employees. It has well-defined values and principles, and it practices them.”
“Being a woman in a man’s world, as some would say, was hard at first. I had to prove that I could do the job and do it well.”
“I always find it amazing when I see a plane flying overhead and think how I may have witnessed the birth of some of its components. It’s a great feeling to be involved with a product from the beginning.”
“I think the biggest benefit of my experience working at another Alcoa location was that it taught me to think outside of the box and challenge my coworkers to break some paradigms or hidden rules that have been there forever to bring about change.”
“I enjoy building teams and challenging people to achieve goals that others say aren’t possible. It’s putting pressure on the status quo.”