Over Michelle Woodard’s almost 20 years at 3M, she’s always seen the promise of progress.
A mechanical engineer who went into marketing at 3M, she moved up the ladder from marketing associate in the Stationery Products Division to a business development manager working globally in the Automotive Aftermarket Division. Now as senior manager of 3M’s Innovation Center in Washington D.C., she gets to share the 3M story with CEOs, government officials and buyers, to name just a few.
But it’s a new role – and the opportunity it brings for helping others progress at 3M – that has her energized and excited: Michelle is 3M’s first Black chair-elect for the Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF).
“Women – and Black women specifically – need to tell people about our accomplishments. We need to feel comfortable bragging about ourselves. We need to share so people can be our allies when decisions are made,” she said.
Making her place at 3M
Although Michelle’s journey at 3M provided her with opportunities for growth, she said her path hasn’t always been easy. She worked hard to prove and quantify her professional value but felt consistently overlooked for opportunities to advance.
“It was exhausting to constantly monitor my tone, my passion, my assertiveness,” she recalled. “These behaviors were viewed as strengths for my male counterparts but were diminishing for me. While they were considered bulldogs, I was viewed as ‘the angry black woman.’”
She found refuge early in her career at 3M when she became involved with the Employee Resource Network (ERN) the Black Leadership Advancement Coalition or 3M BLAC (formerly the African American Network). Her job had taken her away from family, and she longed for a place where she could let her hair down and be herself. She was the only Black female in her class at the Consumer & Office Business MBA program and was now working at a primarily white company. As one of the few new Black faces at 3M Center, 3M BLAC provided a safe place for Michelle to get to know other Black women and men at 3M and open up about challenges she was experiencing.
As she moved through various roles, she leaned on the support system and programming the organization provided. She had formal and informal mentors within 3M BLAC who provided career advice, attended events that helped develop her skillsets, and led several committees and events. 3M BLAC, and the support she’s felt from the network, is one of the main reasons Michelle has stayed at 3M for so long.
“I see 3M as a place where we can make anything happen,” she said.
Building a community of support
While ERNs like 3M BLAC are incredible support systems, she said, it’s the combination of ERNs, allies and leadership stepping up that will lift Black women. And while 3M is working to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace – the company has a goal of doubling the pipeline of diverse talent in management by 2025 – she wants to make sure opportunities are available for internal talent to gain the skills and experience necessary to compete for those roles.
“Some people think we’re asking to put any Black person in those positions,” Michelle said. “We understand that they must be qualified. They must be able to do the job. But if they aren’t given the opportunity to develop their skillset or leadership attributes, they will never be seen as capable of leading.”
While Michelle participated in one of the first WLF Lean-In Circles, she didn’t consider herself an active member until Kayo Roehm, WLF chair emeritus, asked her to lead the Sales Liaison Committee in December of 2020.
“In the last year I’ve seen the dedicated members of WLF plan and execute some amazing programs that lift women, lift 3M and will help us meet our goals of equity in the years to come,” Michelle said.
She said it’s a huge honor to be the first Black chair-elect for WLF, especially in the light of events that have occurred over the past few years. She hopes her leadership role will be a catalyst for more people to work toward our shared equity goals and move both the WLF and 3M forward.
“It’s very significant. When I started at the company, WLF was invite-only, and I did not get the invite. When I looked around, nobody in the group looked like me,” Michelle said. “But look at us today.”