Choosing to Challenge: The Story of Bohler’s Women’s Professional Network

08 March, 2021

“Without the awareness that I have now, I could not envision how effective the group could be. I just didn’t see it [at the time],” Principal Grayson Murray said, when reflecting back on the origins of Bohler’s Women’s Professional Network (WPN).

Though he originally debated the affinity group’s ability to make a difference, Grayson is one of many Bohler leaders who have come to see the WPN in a new light. That’s because what started as a group to help female engineers connect across the company has evolved over the years to become a catalyst for change within Bohler. True to Bohler’s culture, The Bohler Way, the WPN has challenged the status quo and pushed the boundaries of an affinity group’s ability to work with others and impact an organization.

The Need for Something Transformational

Over five years ago, President and CEO Adam Volanth turned to Chief Legal Counsel Jane Leopold-Leventhal and Managing Director of Strategy Jessica Spina for help in starting a women’s affinity group after hearing that a rising female engineer felt she had to choose between a successful career at Bohler and having a family.

“When I heard that, I was deeply disturbed,” said Adam. He saw a critical opportunity for cultural growth and improving the experience women were having at Bohler. “I asked Jane to help create something transformational that would encourage women to stay with Bohler and grow their careers here.”

That conversation set into motion the charter of the Women’s Professional Network: to recruit, retain, and develop the brightest talent in the industry.

A Catalyst for Change and Improvement

Since the network’s inception, the number of female engineers at Bohler has increased nearly 70%. Women in engineering management roles has increased by nearly 300%. In bringing women together across the company to share experiences and encourage each other, the WPN is succeeding in its mission and is making Bohler a stronger organization through inclusion and diversity.

The WPN also provides a platform for women to brainstorm ideas, bubble up challenges, and work with men to find solutions. “It’s a change agent,” Adam explained.

One of its biggest change efforts began by challenging the notion that employees need to be in the office from 8 am until 6 pm, Monday through Friday. With the help of the WPN, women across Bohler began working with their managers to create flexible schedules that enabled them to feel successful at work and at home. This gave rise to Bohler’s company-wide flexibility framework. The work women were doing with their managers normalized modified schedules and remote work for all employees, long before the pandemic hit.

Perhaps the WPN’s greatest impact as a change agent has been its ability to challenge mindsets—for both men and women.

For women, the WPN gave them a platform to challenge any fear they had about speaking up. Project Manager and founding WPN member Megan Baird said the group has helped members “build confidence in knowing that we weren’t crazy to ask questions of our managers. If there was something that we needed to do our jobs better and continue accelerating at Bohler, we asked for it.” Through mentorship opportunities and the ability to share common experiences with other women, the WPN has also encouraged members to challenge the beliefs they have about their own abilities and the value they bring to the firm.

For men, the WPN has challenged mindsets through awareness. As the WPN helped women find their voice, they began sharing their experiences with men. This feedback challenged what many men believed to be true about a woman’s experience.

At a recent internal panel discussion, WPN’s Leadership Council shared with male leaders examples of experiences they had gone through that men likely had not endured. Grayson said, “The examples were profound. They were impactful.” He added, “Without the women of the WPN sharing their experiences with men, I don’t think I would have realized how much [their challenges] interfered with their ability to do an effective job and maximize their potential.”

Partner Keith Cahill, a WPN mentor and advocate, agreed with Grayson about the network’s ability to challenge the status quo by building awareness. As a son, brother, husband, and father, Keith saw how the women in his life had struggled; he was eager to be a part of the WPN and to mentor Bohler’s female employees.

On his mentorship calls, Keith said, “I think I got more from those calls than I was giving to [my mentee].” Keith went on to say that whenever his mentee thanks him for his help and guidance, he’s thinking, “You’re making me a better manager, a better advocate, a better partner. I’m better able to understand what others struggle with and recognize the blind spots that I have [about a woman’s experience].”

An Impactful Mission

“This has been an unbelievable mission. It’s the best part of my job by far,” Jane said regarding her ongoing involvement with the network. “Seeing these women progress in their careers—gain maturity, confidence, and titles—and now they’re mentoring people behind them. It’s exactly what Adam, Jess, and I wanted when we started this journey.”

On International Women’s Day and in honor of the 2021 theme of Choosing to Challenge, Bohler recognizes the women and men who have helped advance the Women’s Professional Network, establish it as a catalyst for change and improvement at Bohler, and set the foundation for other affinity groups within the company to flourish.

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