Happy Mother’s Day to STEM + Moms. Yes, That’s You!
Careers for STEM + Moms aren’t always easy. There are the challenges of scaling the maternal wall, learning how to manage dual careers with a partner or alone as a single parent, and of course navigating the gender gap challenges to thrive in your career. As we celebrate STEM + moms for Mother’s Day, our founder and CEO Sangeeta had an opportunity to sit down with another STEM + mom Michele Mehl, co-founder and CEO of Excy. The Seattle-based company manufactures a medical fitness cycling device that helps those battling injuries, disabilities, and health conditions gain easier access to quality exercise. The system also offers a mobile coaching application to guide people through training with instructions from physical therapists.
How is Michele a STEM + mom?
Michele, who worked in startup technology marketing for 20+ years before starting Excy, has never really considered herself to be in the STEM + field. Sure, STEM itself is easy to understand as those who are trained or work in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. But at Gotara, we always use STEM + because working in STEM also includes the financial or economic wizards, data scientists, social science gurus, or marketing scientists in any industry. So yes Michele’s work in tech, plus the design, manufacturing, and patenting a product and creating an iOS and Android app squarely puts her in the field of STEM +.
Women in manufacturing, where the “old boys’ network” is plentiful
With women making up just 27 percent of manufacturing employees in the U.S. and senior management and ownership being significantly lower, we wanted to use this opportunity to talk to Michele about getting more women into manufacturing. Afterall, women make up nearly half (47 percent) of the total US labor force. So, if there are plenty of qualified women, why aren’t they in manufacturing?
Below are a few of Michele’s STEM + Moms insights from talking to Sangeeta.
What were your biggest challenges as a woman in manufacturing?
I live in Seattle, which leads the world in software development and design. While we have Boeing in our backyard, there are not a lot of hardware startups. When I set out to create Excy, I was constantly told that “Hardware is Hard.” Yes, this is true, but that is true for both men and women. There are some complexities with manufacturing hardware that you don’t run into with software. For example, the upfront cost of creating hardware requires more capital, it takes longer to bring the idea to market, and managing inventory is critical. Again, these are challenges for both men and women. But a bigger challenge for women in this scenario is that such a small percentage of venture capital (2% in 2021) goes to women. Recognizing this from the beginning, I bootstrapped the business. To get more women to pursue entrepreneurship in manufacturing, access to capital is critical.
Another challenge for me as a woman in manufacturing was around finding female mentors and executives who have built physical products in the fitness industry. There are a lot of women in the fitness industry, especially around clothing and training. But there are very few women founders who have created a physical exercise device. To overcome this challenge, I put the industry aside and connected with other women creating mission driven physical products. I also reached out to anyone willing to talk to me about manufacturing in general, which led to long-term relationships that have been invaluable.
There have also been challenges in getting the fitness equipment industry, which is dominated by men, to take our device seriously even though we offer a commercial grade machine. I’m still trying to figure out if traditional fitness media are dismissive because I’m a woman, or they don’t care about the audience, or we are less newsworthy without venture backing.
The jury is still out. But articles like this in U.S. News & World Report highlighting the best gym equipment for women, yet not mentioning one device created by a woman boggles my mind.
What were your challenges as a STEM + Mom?
I started my first company when I was pregnant with my now 16-year-old son. So, when I started Excy, I took a unique approach and asked him for permission at age 9 before making the entrepreneurial leap. It has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I got his buy-in into entrepreneurial life: missing sporting events, traveling, working a lot of hours, working on vacation, and being distracted. Getting his permission allowed me to give myself permission to not plant societal working mom guilt seeds in my head. The pandemic has only amplified the struggles of parenting while working but letting go of trying to be in control and stop trying to pretend like everything is normal has given the entire family a sense of balance.
Is the future of women in manufacturing looking brighter?
According to research, while men are more likely to actively seek out a career in manufacturing compared to their female counterparts (47%-30%), 75% of women in the industry are likely or highly likely to recommend a career in manufacturing. So, the more we can celebrate, attract, and retain women in manufacturing, including their acceleration into leadership positions, the brighter the future looks.
Gotara’s career growth platform for women in STEM + is designed exactly for this purpose. To help individual women get real-time relevant, trusted, and confidential career advice and mentoring from top STEM+ leaders who have been in their shoes. But also, for employers to start attracting, retaining, and accelerating women’s careers in STEM.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you STEM + Moms out there!
Gotara! Join our global advice platform and ask our top STEM leaders like Michele Mehl, co-founder and CEO of Excy.