‘It Was Never A Question’
MillerCoors Employees Reflect On Women In Manufacturing
By IAN MUNRO
Daily News-Record 9/2/19
ELKTON — In Rockingham County sits the largest producer of American light lagers in the world, where nearly 500 Valley residents work — MillerCoors’ Shenandoah Brewery.
Over 100 of those workers are women in roles from engineering to packaging and quality control to vice president/plant manager.
Lori Michelin, the vice president/ plant manager, joined the brewery team two months ago and has over 25 years of experience in manufacturing and leadership positions. She is the second woman to hold the position over the 32 years the plant has been operating.
“I was pretty early in the game so far as a woman becoming a civil engineer,” Michelin said. “My very first job I was the only salaried woman on the team and that’s where I cut my teeth in the manufacturing environment.”
Tammy Hudson, of Harrisonburg, the senior quality manager, has been with MillerCoors for nearly 14 years. For the first seven of those years, she was at the Irwindale plant in California primarily working in quality management.
“My career has also been split 50/50 between the quality department and the brewing department,” Hudson said. “And I think in general, in any manufacturing industry, women in quality is not that unusual — but women in brewing is a little bit more unusual.”
When she transferred to the Shenandoah Brewery, Hudson was the brewing unit manager, which is one step under the department manager.
“There are far less women in actual brewing than in other parts of the business,” she said. “But I think as a company, it’s something they take very seriously.”
Shenandoah Brewery is the third brewhouse at which Brooke Garrison, of Linville, has worked.
Garrison is the engineering services manager and came from the now-closed MillerCoors plant in Eden, North Carolina, in 2016.
“For most of my career, I’ve been the only woman in the technical services department,” Garrison said. “But now, it’s an all-women engineering
She first began working with MillerCoors at the company’s Fort Worth factory in Texas.
“When I first started off in Fort Worth, I think it was only me and one other woman in packaging management,” she said, referencing a team of about 15 people.
“I’ve had three interns, and two of the three were both women,” Garrison said. “I didn’t pick them because they were women — I picked them because they were well qualified.”
Role models are also important in getting women interested in manufacturing, Garrison said.
“My daughters said ‘ I want to be like my mom and I want her job when I get older,’” Garrison said. “So I think it’s just having more working moms out there being role models.”
Michelin said her father was her biggest role model and helped to get her interested in the engineering sector.
A role model for Hudson was Kathy Kinton, who was the first woman president of the Master Brewers Association — an industry group beginning in 1887. Kinton served as president of the group from 2001 to 2002.
“She came up in a time that was very, very difficult for women, especially in the brewing industry,” Hudson said. “So she was very passionate about giving people opportunity and exposing them to different parts of the business.”
In Hudson’s eyes, the environment has improved for women in brewing.
“I think in general, women in the industry, at least at MillerCoors, have always been accepted, at least in my tenure,” Hudson said. “I know that it was tougher in the ‘60s and ‘70s for women, but I never really felt like that.”
And women at MillerCoors earn their positions, she said.
“I think here you’re really valued by what you bring to the table and not necessarily your gender, your race, your age,” Hudson said.
And that has always been important to Hudson, she said.
“Once you showed what you had and proved your skills, it was never a question of anything else,” Hudson said.