Ashley Furniture rising women honored

Two Ashley Furniture Women Receive STEP Ahead Awards for Excellence in Manufacturing

ARCADIA, Wis. — The Manufacturing Institute, the training and workforce development partner of the National Assn. of Manufacturers, will honor two women from Ashley Furniture Inds. with the Step Ahead 2022 awards.

Kenia Cruz, Chief Operating Officer, was named the 2022 STEP Ahead Emerging Leader, and Kobi Connor, Chief Operating Officer, was named the 2022 STEP Ahead Laureate.

The Emerging Leaders category is for young women who are the future of the industry and who have demonstrated outstanding achievement early in their careers.

The STEP Ahead awards recognize women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their careers and represent all levels of the manufacturing industry, from factory floor to C-suite.

Cruz began her career with Ashley as a machine operator when she was 18 years old. Over the next seven years, she was promoted to director of operations, overseeing 14 assembly lines and 150 associates. According to the company, as the first woman in her family to graduate from high school, Cruz is passionate about helping other women grow and succeed.

“It’s an honor to receive this award because it helps show other women that with hard work and dedication, we can achieve great things,” Cruz said. “At Ashley, I not only learned about manufacturing, but also what teamwork and great leadership can do. My family immigrated to the United States from Honduras when I was a child, and receiving this award is my way of showing my parents that their sacrifices and hard work paid off.

Connor began her career with Ashley as a young single mother in an entry-level position on the assembly line and has since been promoted to Director of Operations. While studying under Ashely’s tuition reimbursement program, she joined the Western Women’s Initiative Network and the Multicultural Club to mentor women in technically oriented careers.

“It is a huge honor to receive this award. I’m very proud to be part of a company that helps close the gender gap and encourages the growth of female leaders,” said Connor. “There are so many opportunities for women in manufacturing to succeed at Ashley. I have worked with great leaders who have always challenged me, and it has given me a strong desire to help others to grow.

“As the world’s largest home furnishings manufacturer, Ashley is committed to empowering the next generation of diverse leaders and closing the gender gap in manufacturing,” said Todd Wanek, President and CEO. management of Ashley Furniture.

“Kenia and Kobi are both exceptional women who go to extraordinary lengths every day to be their best and help us achieve our vision of being the best furniture company. We are grateful to have them as leaders within our our organization and we are proud to have them join the ranks of a decade of inspiring STEP Ahead alumni,” Wanek said.

“The STEP Ahead Awards are at the heart of industry efforts to recognize and empower women,” said Carolyn Lee, president of the Manufacturing Institute.

“Our award winners and emerging leaders serve as role models and have their own multiplier effect on the number of women in the workforce, paying it to help others find their way to successful and rewarding careers in modern manufacturing” , said Lee.

“After 10 years of STEP Ahead awards, we have honored over 1,100 women leaders in manufacturing, who in turn have impacted hundreds of thousands of people through mentorship and volunteer work. We are so proud of all of these women, and we look forward to seeing what STEP and its honorees and emerging leaders will accomplish over the next 10 years,” said Lee.

The STEP Ahead Awards recognize outstanding women in manufacturing and motivate them to mentor the next generation through an annual awards gala and associated leadership training program. On April 28, MI will recognize 130 winners of the STEP Ahead Awards in Washington, DC. The STEP Ahead Awards program will highlight the story of each winner and emerging leader, including their leadership and achievements in manufacturing. The stories of these women and the leadership they demonstrate will help inspire the next generation of female leaders in manufacturing and support current female talent within the industry.


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