Podcast: WE17 Opening Keynote Speaker Lorraine Bolsinger
FY17 SWE President Jessica Rannow talks with Lorraine Bolsinger, Vice President of the Accelerated Leadership Program (XLP) at General Electric and a keynote speaker at WE17.
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Hi, I’m Jessica Rannow, FY17 President of the Society of Women Engineers, and this is SWE’s Diverse podcast series. Please remember to add this podcast to your iTunes and like or follow us on social media.
Joining me now is Lorraine Bolsinger, Vice President of the Accelerated Leadership Program (XLP) at General Electric. Lorraine is a keynote speaker at WE17, SWE’s Annual Conference, which is Oct. 26-28 in Austin.
Lorraine has been at GE for 36 years and has held many leadership positions. Prior to her current role, she was the President and CEO of Distributed Power. She also served as President and CEO of GE Aviation Systems.
Lorraine is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biomechanical Engineering.
Thanks for joining us Lorraine.
Tell us more about your career and how you have used your engineering degree in the many roles you’ve had at GE.
- I’ve been fortunate to work at GE for 36 years – and I’ve had at least 10 incredible careers during that time. I’ve commercialized power plants and jet engines, led our corporate ecomagination initiative, created a joint venture with a state-owned enterprise in China, built an electrical power lab, developed a research satellite that we launched from the space shuttle, and launched the first gas turbine on a fast ferry and a cruise ship.
- I joined GE in an early career development program in marketing and sales of energy products. I held roles in product management, sales and marketing across GE Power, Aerospace, and Aviation, serving such diverse industries and technologies as space & defense, power generation, oil and gas, marine, and aviation for both military and civil markets. I’ve worked across GE and have travelled to about 100 countries. From such a vantage point I can tell you firsthand: Our passion to imagine a better world – and make it happen – sets us apart.
Now you head up GE’s Accelerated Leadership Program (XLP). Tell us about that program.
- XLP was created & launched in 2016 to build a pipeline of future executive GE leaders who will have the global capabilities necessary to guide GE as a digital industrial company in the coming decades. XLP is a two- to four-year program that combines full-time stretch assignments, high-impact projects and a custom curriculum, supported by a foundation of individualized development plans, breakthrough learning experiences, high-profile assignments, and ongoing coaching, mentoring and networking. The top-priority assignments and projects that XLPs tackle are expected to have significant business impact.
- The program develops both functional and leadership capabilities. The program offers 9 functional tracks. Each track has a list of functional capabilities connected to GE’s functional capability models and the candidates move from awareness to skilled and expert through the program. We also develop core leadership capabilities – global leadership, business acumen, commercial growth, digital innovation and operations expertise.
GE also has a new program called Balance the Equation. The goal is to have 20,000 technical women in the company by 2020. How do you plan to do that?
- To invent the future, the workforce that engineers, builds and services GE’s products across the globe, should reflect the world we live in… that world is at gender parity. There is a business imperative: with more diverse teams, we can accelerate innovation and transform industry. Today we have only 18% women in our technical roles and we can do better
- We must recruit the best, retain the best and spread the word. This means… building participation among women at more junior levels to help increase the available pipeline – and providing opportunities for challenging and fulfilling jobs for women within GE, while making the business case for more inclusiveness.
- The goals we are setting today inject urgency into addressing ongoing gender imbalance in technical fields. We are making three step-changes in our strategy to help us meet our good faith goals. First from a recruiting perspective, we are expanding the number of colleges and universities from which we recruit to include institutions with a more competitive gender mix. Second, from a retention standpoint, we’ve instituted processes to provide feedback to the technical leadership across the company to support this transformation and are testing different ways to hold our managers accountable by pulsing their overall effectiveness in creating an inclusive environment and conducting unconscious bias training with teams. Third, we are providing thought-leadership on the subject through our media campaigns and public commitment. These are just a few examples of how we will make sure that our goals are embraced at all levels in the organization and evident in everyday actions.
You’ve also been on a bus tour this spring with GE. You’re stopping at college campuses to meet young women considering careers in engineering. Is it important for young women to have role models like you?
- With our recent Millie ad, we imagined a world where brilliant women are the stars (the role models). The ad was designed to be an inspiration for women pursuing the sciences.
- Or, think of the movie “Hidden Figures”. I think everyone can agree that seeing and hearing from women in technology is inspiring and exciting- and we need to do more of that. Role models matter. But we also brought a lot of young women with us because women on campus want to hear from them and relate to them.
Why do you think women leave the engineering profession or don’t go into the field in the first place?
- I don’t pretend to know all the answers but I do know real change upends long-held assumptions. It forces us to look anew and deeper at problems we may have written off as unsolvable. We can’t shrug our shoulders and think, “It’s just the way things are.”
- There are steps businesses can take now to attract and retain female talent that will drive near-term progress and just might galvanize a new paradigm.
- I think GE’s digital industrial transformation is a catalyst. The new “work” in a digital industrial world is different. We’re developing additive manufacturing technologies that are creative and sculptural, brilliant factories that are clean, bright and rely on advanced robotics, novel cell therapies that offer new hope to patients and physicians, and software solutions that make power plants more energy efficient and sustainable. This future work represents a new kind of calling, one that is now taking shape with a spirit of inventiveness, possibility, and urgency. It is creative, fulfilling, responsible – and dare I say it – cool. Both women and men are drawn to this kind of work.
You’ve been a member of SWE since college, and now your daughter is an engineering student at Dartmouth and a SWE member. Did you encourage her to pursue a career in STEM?
- Yes, I certainly did! She was an outstanding, well rounded student who like many freshmen weren’t exactly sure what they wanted to study. She started in economics but switched to engineering…and mom and dad are happy!
- My parents were a major influence even though they were far from “helicopter parents.” They worked long and hard hours—my father working construction in the daytime and both tending our family newsstand. They demanded academic excellence but whenever I expressed an interest in an activity, a subject, a sport… my parents’ response was always the same. It was simple. It was unequivocal. They said: “Go for it.”
- I started college as a dual major in English and Chemistry but “saw the light” and switched to engineering. I earned a degree in biomedical engineering with the help of a family who had boundless faith in what I could achieve and let me figure it out. And that is exactly what I am trying to instill in my daughter. I encouraged her to pursue her dreams, keeping all her options open, while also emphasizing the impact she could have on the world as an engineer.
- The technological future is not just something we watch, but something we invent. Making that happen is what sets engineers apart!
We hear a lot about work/life balance, but not all women have the same outlook on that issue. You have two children, and your husband is also an executive at GE. You’ve had to chart your own path as a working mom. How have you handled it?
- It is a constant struggle that requires prioritization. You must work hard at making the right choice day by day. My roles were always very demanding but I tried to find opportunities to “integrate” work and life as much as possible. I invited customers to my home. I brought my children on customer ski trips. I talked about cool things I did at work so they would love GE, not resent it. When my son was younger he would poke his head into the cockpit upon boarding a plane and ask the Captain how he liked the GE engines.
- I am happy to see that GE is now providing more flexible arrangements for working families that allows them to customize their schedules to maximize productivity.It allows employees to bring their best selves to work when we offer a more positive experience in work life integration and digital tools help us connect more easily and virtually at work and home.
What are two key points you’d like the audience to take away from your keynote speech at WE17?
- First, go beyond your comfort zone: As engineers, we anchor our strength and confidence in technical know-how. But we gain confidence by taking on new challenges and risks early. Always look for roles, both within and beyond your domain, that are outside your comfort zone – you’ll learn more, faster. You possess far more capacity than you realize. If you don’t have an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, choose a bigger challenge. When we stretch, we learn.
- Second, look to the future: We need the world’s best talent to invent the future and make the world work better. But it is not just about our collective future. It is about your own future. How will you define yourself? Deep down, how will you do it? What will you stand for? What do you want to be known for? Be confident in your abilities, be curious and constantly keep learning
Lorraine, is there a final thought you’d like to share with our audience?
We need more women in STEM. And I hope that our podcast listeners and SWE attendees are excited about the future. The world is changing; jobs are changing; conversations are changing. There is no better time than today to take full advantage of the opportunities out there and I know engineers can do ANYTHING!
Lorraine Bolsinger is Vice President of the Accelerated Leadership Program (XLP) at General Electric. She is a keynote speaker at WE17 in Austin. To learn more about WE17, go to WE17 dot swe dot org.
Lorraine, thanks for participating in SWE’s Diverse podcast series.