PHCPPros is continuing to highlight AB&I's celebration of women in the industry who are pushing through to achieve greatness in manufacturing, engineering, and the plumbing industry as a whole. Read the following Q&A to meet our September 2020 Woman In PHCP, Melisa Cohen is the Environmental Manager for the Environmental Department at AB&I.
PHCPPros: Why did you decide to enter a career in manufacturing plumbing products?
Cohen: I was looking for a career change in 2018 and had been familiar with AB&I, which was a customer of my previous employers in the Scrap Metal Industry. Having spent many years in scrap metal, AB&I was of great interest to me as I wanted the opportunity to work where the scrap metal was being made into actual products – close the circle of recycling/sustainability. I have worked predominantly in heavy industry most of my career and much of which has been in California. It has been very disappointing to me to see the exodus of so much manufacturing from California over the past years much of which has been driven by environmental laws. AB&I however seemed to be an exception, priding itself in being a California and the Bay Area Manufacturer for over 100 years and standing up to the challenges of the ever-changing environmental laws/requirements. The plumbing products produced also were a driver in my decision to join AB&I as I recognize the importance of sanitation and how vital these products are in our modern world. I also appreciated AB&I’s products are used throughout California and neighboring states and much is used locally here in the Bay Area. With the company providing good, diverse jobs for people in the local community as well as supporting the community in so many ways, AB&I is the model of sustainability.
PHCPPros: How long have you been with AB&I Foundry?
Cohen: I have been with AB&I since the beginning of 2019. I manage the Environmental Department, which currently includes three additional members supporting Air, Waste, Water, and Stormwater as well as two Environmental Technicians maintaining environmental abatement equipment in the facility. Our department provides regulatory knowledge to the Plant Management to help guide operations to ensure they meet and often exceed environmental compliance requirements. Our team touches everyone in the foundry as we try to educate all the team members to understand the environmental needs and that they each have a part in keeping our plant in compliance. Even during my short tenure with AB&I, the environmental regulations in the Bay Area have become some of the most stringent in the nation let alone the world, and I am proud to be a part of the team that is taking on these new challenges and creating the foundry of the future.
PHCPPros: Have you had any women in industry mentor you along the way?
Cohen: Having started my career in the mid-1980s in manufacturing, there were very few women in the actual field in the industry, most providing administrative support. The environmental field was also still in its infancy and coming from UC Berkeley, most turning to government and activism which industry was frowned upon. I was fortunate to get an internship in heavy manufacturing and a mentor who had offered to teach me everything he knew if I would stay on as he was desperate for help and needed more than just an intern. I fell in love in manufacturing and recognized the hard work, innovation and leadership needed for manufacturing to thrive. I have had the opportunity to support manufacturing in a variety of fields including Aerospace, Wood Products, Chemical Manufacturing, Waste Management/Recycling and now Plumbing.
PHCPPros: Have you ever mentored other women in industry?
Cohen: I have had the opportunity to mentor both men and women in environmental work in heavy industry though always most proud of the women as it is not the route most taken for most women. Having been an intern myself, I have always tried to bring on interns, many of whom were women, to encourage them to pursue a career in heavy industry. As well, I have also participated in management trainee programs, which also included many women who got to learn the various disciplines of the industry and often ended up taking on the environmental industrial career path. We currently have an Environmental Management trainee who is working in safety but is developing her environmental knowledge to expand her capabilities in the foundry.
PHCPPros: What words of wisdom do you have for other women in the industry or those who are considering work in PHCP?
Cohen: Manufacturing offers great opportunities to utilize your engineering and in my case, environmental knowledge in an area that truly needs good leaders to succeed. Many of the challenges are not simple plug and play solutions so a lot of research is needed and when you do make the improvements, the tangible results are something to be proud of.
PHCPPros: Is there anything else you would like to share about being a woman in the industry?
Cohen: The world is changing so fast that the stigmas of women in manufacturing are becoming less and less. The realization that diversity really does make for a more successful organization is more acknowledged than ever. As we re-evaluate what sustainability truly is, I think we will see more manufacturing and not less locally as no different than getting your local produce, we should be able to provide our own manufactured goods and have people locally who can install it.