The Roots of Lean

While the birth of Lean is attributed to Motorola in the 1980s, many of today’s lean practices have roots as far back as the early 1900s. Lillian Gilbreth, widely considered one of the first industrial/organizational psychologists, was also one of the first female engineers to earn a Ph.D. in psychology. Using her knowledge of both fields, she helped men in the engineering field understand the human element of their work and how to improve the efficiency of their work. Regarding a continuous improvement mindset, Lillian Gilbreth was one of the first to apply these improvement concepts to the engineering field, paving the way for women in lean almost a century later.

Women in Lean

Lillian is not the only woman whose fingerprints can be found on the success of lean management. In the 1990s, Joan Wellman was the first person to bring lean methodology and practices into the healthcare system. Since then, healthcare has made massive strides in productivity and efficiency practices. Since the 90s, Joan has helped countless organizations adopt lean methods.

While Joan brought lean concepts to healthcare, Jean Cunningham took Lean methodology into America’s offices. The profession largely recognizes her as a pioneer in transitioning lean strategies into the world of accounting and office management. As a consultant and speaker, Jean travels the globe leading workshops and lean-based events to help companies bring lean to their offices. She currently teaches Lean Accounting at Ohio State University, where she continues her dedication to lean advancements.

Another woman making the headlines is Rose Heathcote, the first woman elected as CEO of the Lean Institute Africa. She was only the second woman elected to the same position across all Lean Institutes worldwide. Heathcote has been a major player in lean practices for decades. Her most recent aim is to apply lean methods to strategies for overcoming environmental issues. Rose currently serves as a Senior Lecturer and the Director of the Sustainable Enterprise Program at the University of Buckingham. She aims to bring lean practices into all aspects of enterprise, from top to bottom.

While these four women are undoubtedly worthy of note, countless women are responsible for lean’s success and reach. The advancement of lean methodology doesn’t rely solely on one gender but both genders coming together for the love of the work.

The Future of Lean & Women

Women haven’t always been welcomed with open arms in the manufacturing world, where lean strategies have truly blossomed. They’ve often had to overcome being underestimated or made to feel like they don’t belong. But the tides are changing. The gender gap that once existed in the field is quickly closing due to women’s access and interest in manufacturing and process management. As lean continues to take the world by storm, women will play a more prominent role in its success.