STEP Ahead Awards – Honoring Special Women in Manufacturing

The Manufacturing Institute, in conjunction with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)

Manufacturing faces a serious skills gap. Part of this gap is the underrepresentation of women in the industry. Women make up about 47 percent of the labor force, but only 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce. To help improve upon this, The Manufacturing Institute is promoting the role of women in manufacturing through the STEP Ahead Awards initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production), which serves to mentor and recognize women while also leading research efforts tackling this important topic.

The Manufacturing Institute launched the STEP Ahead Awards initiative in 2012 to celebrate women in the manufacturing industry that are making a difference through advocacy, mentorship, engagement, promotion, and leadership. The STEP Ahead Awards highlight the achievements of real women in manufacturing on a national stage with a formal gathering to celebrate their accomplishments, provide introductions with networking and to recognize their leadership.

ACE is extremely proud to have four STEP Ahead awarded members of our staff.


2016 STEP-Ahead Honoree

Genoveva Perez

Human Resources Manager
ACE Clearwater, Torrance, CA

“I am passionate about manufacturing because I continue to see many great minds work together and make amazing things happen. Manufacturing builds careers not just jobs. It promotes ethics and pride. Manufacturing is an orchard of many wonderful opportunities full of producing fruit with endless possibilities.”

Gen has been with ACE Clearwater for more than 15 years, and in that time she has helped create an environment of trust, honesty and compassion.  She leads by example, is very hard working, and is committed to continuous learning. She has created an HR department that looks after the company’s interests, but she also is able to see things from the employee’s perspective.  She is a natural leader with great charisma.

Gen is constantly striving to better herself.  She is a member of a range of professional organizations, and on the advisory boards of several associations and schools.

One of the goals she had upon joining ACE was to develop into a true leader, where her career could flourish by being a voice for other HR professionals, and where she could make positive changes by improving the business relationship between employers and employees. She has created that environment, where unusually low turnover and high employee satisfaction are a testament to her skills. Gen leads by example and is loved by the workforce for her fair and balanced approach to difficult HR issues.

Gen spends hundreds of hours visiting local community colleges to help with resume writing, giving tips to new graduates on how to interview, going to job fairs on off hours, and bringing in kids from third grade to college for real world tours of our facilities. Virtually everyone who teaches manufacturing related skills at the local high schools, community colleges and trade schools knows Gen.


2015 STEP-Ahead Honoree

Cathy Geiger

Senior Program Manager
ACE Clearwater
, Paramount CA

“In an industry dominated by men, I have always excelled. Not because I worked to overcome society’s limitations of being a woman in manufacturing, but because they never occurred to me. As women we need to define our own goals and strive to achieve our own expectations.”

Cathy has been in the aerospace manufacturing environment her entire career, starting at Rockwell International on the Space Shuttle program.  She excelled in a range of different roles, eventually working on the B1 bomber program.  The experience she brings to ACE Clearwater as a result of her many and varied responsibilities over the years is exceptional.  Today Cathy finds the resources to keep the metal forming facility operating at a near zero defect mode. Under Cathy’s leadership the plant has shipped over 485,000 parts in the past ten years to its main customer (Honeywell Aerospace) with just 37 rejections, a testament to her management skills.

Cathy has come up with many suggestions for streamlining the plant’s very complicated processes. Her advice is sound, reasoned, and practical in a fast moving manufacturing environment. She is analytical and trustworthy.  Cathy has communication and technical skills that allow her to easily transition between meeting with key customers to discuss technical issues and collaborating with lead engineers, corporate executives, or shop floor personnel to understand production, scheduling, or cost containment problems.

Cathy leads by example and is an inspiration to the staff at ACE Clearwater’s metal forming.  She is firm, understanding, and results-focused.   Cathy truly is a team player, capable of pulling out the best in all who report to her and offering constructive guidance and thoughtful ideas to allow each individual to succeed and grow. She encourages continuing education, and follows through to make sure people are in the best positions for their experience.


2014 STEP-Ahead Honoree

Irina Kleyman

Manufacturing Engineer
ACE Clearwater, Torrance, CA

“Manufacturing to me is a very important part of our economy. It not only creates and sustains the middle class, it has so many career opportunities for everyone. I am so inspired by seeing a two dimensional drawing become a 3 dimensional part.”

Irina has been an inspiration to our machinists, welders and production staff by leading through example. She is a consummate problem solver, helping bring her engineering prowess to real-world shop floor manufacturing problems. The aerospace environment is constantly challenged to find creative ways to drive cost out of the process, while also delivering high-quality flight-critical complex formed and welded assemblies to our OEM customers. She is the go-to person for both our internal and external customers, and uses her expertise to bring significant cost savings to all parties.  Irina has the ability to communicate complex processes and production methodologies to all levels of the organization and is an indispensable resource due to her education, experience, and attitude.

Irina credits her parents, who were both mechanical engineers, with sparking an interest in her to pursue an engineering career.  She started with ACE several years after she arrived from the former Soviet Union, and has been instrumental in mentoring and coaching college interns and new hires.

Irina truly loves a challenge, and is passionate about sharing knowledge and experience.  She is especially interested in working to encourage young women to get involved in engineering and manufacturing fields, emphasizing the range of opportunities at all levels.


2014 STEP-Ahead Honoree

Kellie Johnson

ACE Clearwater, Torrance, CA

“Manufacturing fulfills me on so many levels.  I’ve had the opportunity to continue my family legacy as a third generation manufacturer servicing the aerospace industry where the US remains a global leader.  I am proud to offer amazing career paths to the women and men who are the American workforce.”

ACE Clearwater Enterprises specializes in complex formed and welded assemblies.  Under Kellie’s leadership, the company has grown to 210 employees with projected revenue of $35 million.  The company is a preferred supplier for most original equipment manufacturers and recipient of the coveted Boeing Supplier of the Year award.

Kellie serves on the Board and Executive Committee of the National Association of Manufacturers.  She is a Trustee of The Manufacturing Institute and served on the Department of Commerce Manufacturing Council in the Bush and Obama Administrations.  Kellie sits on the California Metals Coalition board and was previously involved as Board member and Chair for the California Manufacturing and Technology Association.

Kellie sponsors three FIRST Robotics teams including an all female team called the Fembots and started a production company, DASH 9, to help manufacturers with marketing, training and advocacy.



MetalForming Magazine
This inaugural recognition acknowledges those, from shop floor to top floor, who have demonstrated a commitment to the metalforming and fabricating industry and have distinguished themselves through their achievements and daily dedication.

“As an industry leader, we feel that it is MetalForming magazine’s duty to recognize these industry leaders, the women who walk the walk each and every day to ensure success for their companies and serve as inspiration to those who one day will follow them,” says Andrew Flando, publisher of MetalForming. “We were overwhelmed by the number of nominees from manufacturing and supplier companies. All of the nominees were excellent, and we had a challenging time in selecting the 30 winners.”

With input from the Precision Metalforming Association and Women in Manufacturing, MetalForming has identified a comprehensive list of deserving candidates that not only show how vital women are to manufacturing success, but serve to inspire the next generation of difference makers.

“We are impressed and inspired by the women celebrated in this section,” says Allison Grealis, president and founder of Women in Manufacturing and vice president of Association Services for the Precision Metalforming Association. “We hope that their stories and examples of success will encourage greater numbers of women to enter the industry and pursue challenging positions in metalforming.”

Liz Ramirez
Quality Engineer
ACE Clearwater, Torrance, CA

A go-to person, ‘can’t do it’ is not in Liz’s vocabulary. With a challenging position in a high-volume, low-mix metalforming facility, she strives to solve problems and treat all of her colleagues with total respect…and has earned theirs.

Starting as document-control clerk, through on-the-job training, outside classroom instruction and her work ethic, Liz rose through the ranks to become a manufacturing engineering assistant, and with her attention to detail, became a full-time manufacturing engineer. And when a quality-engineer position became available, she was immediately recommended for the promotion.

She also volunteers to speak with young people, especially young women, encouraging them to consider careers in manufacturing. Liz is actively involved in the company’s Manufacturing Day event, where more than 500 local students, educators and parents are invited to visit and experience first-hand the innovation and exciting challenges that exist on a real-world shop floor.

“Women contribute to manufacturing every day. We can be more than teachers, nurses or moms and be part of a great workforce that makes things. Being a part of a team brings us together to share in our successes. It’s tremendously rewarding, having created something special at the end of the day, every day. And doing it together, it counts.”