Empowering Women in STEM: A Journey of Leadership and Growth

Spring brings with it not only the excitement of beautiful weather but also the celebration of growth and new beginnings. March was Women’s History Month, a time to honor the invaluable contributions of women all over the world throughout history. In the realm of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), it serves as a reminder of the pivotal role women have played and continue to play in shaping the landscape of innovation and discovery.

POET is committed to fostering a culture of growth and empowerment both within the STEM landscape and across all career fields. With a dedication to supporting its team members’ careers and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, POET hosts a company-wide educational series, The Rhyme and Reason. These events consist of various panels of POET leaders sharing their knowledge and expertise with all POET team members across its network of bioprocessing facilities and corporate offices.

Panelists Antje Skiff, Kristin Buhman, Becky Pitz, and Moderator Miranda Broin

March’s Rhyme & Reason focused on Women in STEM, highlighting four women in STEM positions across the company:

·       Becky Pitz, General Manager of POET Bioprocessing – Mitchell

·       Kristin Buhman, Corporate Controller

·       Antje Skiff, Mechanical Engineering Manager

·       Deb Roth, Plant Manager of POET Research Center

Reflecting on her journey in a predominantly male-dominated field, Becky Pitz remarked, "Looking back, I’ve always worked in a male-dominated field. As an engineer, that’s what is going to happen… and when you do that, you can’t be afraid to speak up for yourself."

Pitz's experience underscores the resilience and determination required to navigate spaces where gender disparities persist. She further added, "In my POET role, it was a leadership position, and that was a little different because now you’re over a team. I had to try a little bit harder, I had to know a little bit more, but I’ve loved it every step of the way, and everyone’s been awesome to work with."

Kristin Buhman echoed the sentiment of growth and support within the workplace culture. "POET culture really supports growth within the company. That kind of entrepreneurial spirit allows for some creativity in career paths and how we build teams."

She emphasized the importance of nurturing a conducive environment where individuals are encouraged to explore diverse career trajectories. “When it comes to culture, you have to really believe in it and be purposeful about it,” said Buhman. “Live the culture you want to have and make sure that you’re hiring for it, that you have the people on the team that truly fit that culture. Culture is created; it doesn’t just come to be.”

Antje Skiff emphasized the importance of adaptability in leadership, "I don’t think I have just one single word to describe my leadership style, but I do try to do some situational leadership when it applies. We talk a lot about what the mission is and bringing value to POET...I think when we’re working with other disciplines, that’s really the key: the mission is at the forefront, and we can all work together to get there.”

Skiff's approach underscores the need for leaders to be responsive to the unique dynamics of their teams, fostering collaboration and alignment towards a common goal. Reflecting on her own journey, she shared empowering advice for aspiring leaders, "You’re stronger than you think you are. And other people might see things in you that you don’t even see in yourself."

Panelist Deb Roth via Zoom

Deb Roth has been with POET at its original bioprocessing facility – which now serves as a pilot-scale research facility – since the beginning, “I believe I was team member three or four. I don’t quite remember!”

Roth discussed POET's innovation and growth from a small facility in Scotland, SD, to the world’s largest producer of biofuels. As a POET leader for years, she advocates for early investment in leadership development. "Take classes in leadership early on. Whatever area you’re looking to go into, broaden it a little bit more, so you’re more prepared for the future."

At the end of the panel, the audience had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions. In response to a question about balancing assertiveness with humility in leadership, Pitz emphasized the importance of authenticity, "Be genuine and be humble." Buhman underscored the significance of integrity, "Focus on doing the right thing and operating with integrity and staying strong in that."

Innovation lies at the heart of progress, and POET is proud to support and share the stories of team members in all fields who are paving the way for others. POET champions trailblazers and innovators who dare to dream and redefine what is possible.




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