International Women’s Day at Praxair

International Women's Day at Praxair

International Women’s Day planning committee at Praxair in Burr Ridge (l to r) Elizabeth Supple, Chris Ranous, Erika Rogozinski, speaker Deanna Shoss, Joe Abdoo, Kristen Alcazaren, and Ann Klochan. 

International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated in force this March. For my colleagues from Serbia and Russia, they can remember celebrating this special day since they were children. In the US, the first “Google Result” of a US effort is from 2012. President Barack Obama first proclaimed “Women’s History Month” in March 2011. In 2018 IWD events were in force across the country, on the coattails of the #metoo movement and increasing awareness for equal pay and a respectful workplace.

Praxair, an American worldwide industrial gases company, embraced the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of women’s at their Burr Ridge location. Notable was the fact that there were as many men, if not more, taking part in the event. “It’s a very inclusive environment here,” said Ann Klochan, Executive Assistant. Klochan was a member of the event planning committee.  “Everyone is invited and encouraged to come. Praxair really values all of the different thought processes and believes it’s of value to have multiple perspectives in discussions,” said Klochan. “It might make a difference in how you engineer a project or work with a customer, which could make the difference in a sale or patent.”

Praxair Working Year Round to Recruit and Develop Women Engineers

Well beyond a one day celebration, Klochan cited specific programs underway designed to target women in engineering. “I love that Praxair is so enthusiastic about it,” she said. Praxair has programs to recruit woman college students and an annual hands-on STEM project for girls at Burr Ridge Middle School.

“In the past you almost never saw women engineers,” said Klochan, who has been with Praxair for 15 years. “Now we’re seeing it as much more common.” In fact, two years ago there were six men and only one woman in the cohort for LTOP, Praxair’s fast-track Leadership Technical Orientation Program. The most recent cohort was included four women.

Klochan is energized by the conscientious focus on diversity and inclusion at the company. “There’s a new generation of employees coming in. It’s fun to see new people involved and to feel their excitement at being valued as an employee.”

Joe Abdoo, Vice President Central Region at Praxair, kicked off the event by welcoming and thanking everyone for attending. Deanna Shoss (okay, full-disclosure, I was honored to be invited to be their IWD speaker!) then talked about unconscious bias, including tips and tools for recognizing one’s own knee-jerk reactions. “We all have biases,” said Shoss. “It’s a natural instinct, going back to our fight or flight, eat or get eaten days.”

Shoss talked about how culture influences our behaviors and communication styles. “I know folks will put to good use the tools you suggested to look beyond cultural differences,” said Abdoo, about Shoss’ message. “Also, by pointing out that unconscious bias is a real and natural thing in all of us, you help us start to be more aware of our interactions with others. The ideas you provided are so necessary to working in an inclusive environment, and will help us in both our personal and work lives as we strive be better people.”

Noticing that all the women in the room were wearing sweaters and all of the men shirt-sleeves, she couldn’t help but share an insight from key note speaker Bonnie Fetch, who had spoken at the Illinois Diversity Council’s Women’s Leadership Conference just the day before.  Fetch, co-author of (Un) Skirting the Issues: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned Man in Today’s Workplace, shared results of a study that said 68 degrees was the optimal temperature for optimal work productivity …for a man. The corporate workplace was originally designed by men, for men.

Times are now changing and so must the business culture to remain competitive.

Elizabeth Supple, HR Generalist at Praxair Distribution, also served on this year’s International Women’s Day planning event committee. “Being involved in all aspects of diversity brings our colleagues closer together. IWD was a fun and engaging way to recognize all of the women who have made a difference in history. “Everyone had a chance to share their knowledge and learn more in a fun game that highlighted the accomplishments of women throughout history, including Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Angela Merkel, Oprah Winfrey, and more.

“As an HR professional, having an inclusive and respectful environment is key to a successful company culture,” said Supple.  “Being more self-aware will help me not only on a personal level but in my professional environment as well.” 

Congratulations to Praxair and all of the hard work of the IWD planning committee, including  Joe Abdoo,  Mary Ann Vasquez, Catie Sheklarevski , Elizabeth Supple, Kristen Alcazaren and Erika Rogozinski.