Six Sigma is too often related with men.

It’s understandable, in a way. Men, after all, invented Six Sigma for Motorola in the 1980s. Men also refined the system at Toyota, creating the Toyota Production System that remains admired to this day.

But gender plays no role in applying the methodology. The tactics and tools used are the very definition of “gender agnostic.” Women have been and still are excelling at applying Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma to make operations more efficient and effective.

Many also have been grabbing headlines recently.

One is Sabrina Butcher, an engineer who worked in the automotive and railroad industries and now runs her own consulting company. She specializes in Lean strategies, particularly the waste associated with not maximizing the talent available within an organization.

Butcher is far from alone. Other women have received attention for their efforts in Lean and Six Sigma.

First Woman CEO

Perhaps the biggest sign of women moving into Lean and Six Sigma was the election this year of Rose Heathcote as CEO of the Lean Institute Africa. Heathcote is the first ever female CEO of the institute, and only the second to lead one of the 27 Lean Institutes around the world.

Heathcote is already considered a leading thinker in Lean methodology. She’s authored two books on the methodology and is working on a third, “Green Value Stream,” in which she will explore applications of Lean thinking to address environmental issues.

She also offered Engineering News a succinct recipe for success for Lean leaders: “Show people you care by practicing what you preach.”

Healthcare Innovators

In Louisiana, Dr. Renee Harris and Fancy Manton, a clinical supervisor in pharmacy, both earned their Green Belts in Lean Six Sigma through the Louisiana Hospital Association’s Physician Leadership Academy. Both work at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge.

They then took the methodology and applied it to a study on antibiotics resistance, leading to new processes at the hospital that improved patient outcomes. Cathy Griffiths, the hospital’s vice president of quality, said that “by having key leaders at Woman’s Hospital with Lean Six Sigma certification, we will be able to escalate and optimize our current processes.”

“Dr. Harris and Fancy Manton’s expertise in Lean Six Sigma methods will improve our antibiotic stewardship program,” she added.

Six Sigma in Higher Ed

At the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, a video has been created emphasizing the role of women in supply chain process mapping as well as the use of Six Sigma in banking controls. The video is part of the college’s Pathways for Women program.

The Mississippi University For Women also has started a class focused on the application of Six Sigma.

Six Sigma Abroad

The success of Six Sigma has spread around the world. Earlier this year in the Ukraine, the Sterling Business School – working in a partnership with Rowan University in New Jersey – graduated the first women ever in its Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification program. The group of women all work for AgroGeneration, one of the country’s leaders in industrial farming.

Clearly, women around the world are beginning to make their mark in the world of Lean and Six Sigma. As more companies put Six Sigma and Lean to use, coupling it with project management and process improvement initiatives, expect more women to become prominent in this growing discipline.

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