Six Sigma was originally developed for manufacturing processes, but now it’s moving into different industries and increasing its reach, breaking down the stereotypical views of how it’s used and its purpose.
Hearing the term “Six Sigma” might not bring to mind a group of women working on strategy and streamlining processes, but there are women across the United States and the world trying to change that perception.
“For a long time, Lean and Six Sigma were leveraged exclusively for manufacturing processes,” said Marliese Bartz, Principal of Bartz Consulting, LLC. “More recently, the toolsets are extending into service industries such as healthcare and software development. Companies are seeing the benefit of applying Lean and Six Sigma in customer-facing departments such as marketing and customer service, as well as in back office, transactional processes such as legal and finance. This has opened the door for women to be trained and promoted into Lean and Six Sigma roles from within their existing specialties.”
How Women are Using Six Sigma Across the World
From doctors in Louisiana to students in Ukraine, Six Sigma and women are becoming change agents through various ventures.
Ukraine’s First Female Six Sigma Black Belts
In February 2018, five women graduated from a Six Sigma Black Belt program in Ukraine, making them the first female recipients of this certification in their country, according to The Kyiv Post. The program they participated in has been in existence for 12 years.
Reducing Antibiotic Use in Louisiana
A team from the Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, led by Dr. Renee Harris, OB-GYN and Fancy Manton, clinical supervisor in pharmacy, was able to apply Lean Six Sigma principles to a project and worked to make sure that vancomycin, which is a treatment for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is indicated within 72 hours of initiation. These findings helped the hospital optimize its current process and improve their antibiotic use, according to a press release.
“Tools like Lean Six Sigma empower physician-led teams to save lives and reduce healthcare costs within their communities,” said Louisiana Hospital Association President and CEO Paul Salles in a press release.
Making an Impact in Africa
Rose Heathcote was recently appointed CEO of the Lean Institute Africa, becoming the first woman CEO of the nonprofit organization, as well as the second woman Institutional Head in the Lean Global Network, according to Engineering News. She first experienced Lean while working at the Automotive Industry Development Center, as well as some overseas training in Japan where she received mentoring from kaizen experts.
Why Women Should Pay Attention to Six Sigma
Bartz, who holds a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and has more than a decade of Six Sigma experience, believes it’s essential for everyone to have some form of Six Sigma training.
“In my opinion, I think everyone should be trained in the fundamentals of Lean and Six Sigma – we need to have both a widespread skillset and mindset,” Bartz said. “That being said, not everyone in an organization needs to be a Green Belt or a Black Belt. For those with the managerial courage to be change leaders, Lean and Six Sigma offers an amazing platform upon which to build a career. Especially for women, it offers a rewarding way to apply emotional intelligence and depth of experience toward meaningful, positive change.”
Bartz credits that managerial courage in her first female Lean Six Sigma mentor, who helped change her career.
“My first female Lean Six Sigma mentor was my operational excellence deployment leader when I was working in corporate America,” Bartz said. “She fought an internal, political battle to recruit me as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. That one act of managerial courage changed the course of my career, forever and for the better. Fast forward 15 years and building my own consulting practice – I’ve been a one-on-one female mentor to over 30 Lean Six Sigma Green Belts.”
Current Six Sigma Trends to Watch
Moving to different industries means that Lean and Six Sigma are experiencing more of a widespread acceptance, according to Bartz – industries like healthcare, technology, government services and insurance give the concepts more exposure, which is a positive trend.
“The negative trend I see is the misunderstanding and misuse of Lean and Six Sigma,” Bartz said. “As the concepts are becoming more mainstream, people are viewing them as quick fixes and cure-alls. While it’s true that you can obtain transformational results through Lean and Six Sigma, often in a short timeframe, the tools cannot be used in a vacuum. Lean and Six Sigma are skillsets that can be taught – the organization, however, needs to provide the supporting mindset. Typically, this means that an organization must culturally shift toward a new way of thinking – to allow people to believe in and exhibit a supporting Lean and Six Sigma mindset. No matter what tools or approach you apply, if a change initiative is not aligned with the culture, culture always wins.”
As other industries shift to using Lean and Six Sigma, companies will need to hire professionals trained in these areas and obtaining a certificate in Lean Six Sigma is a good first step toward becoming a Six Sigma expert just like Bartz.