Denso’s Denise Carlson recognized for excellence in leadership

Aug. 9, 2021
Engineer earns STEP Ahead Award from The Manufacturing Institute

Denise Carlson, vice president of the North American Production Innovation Center and executive lead for Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) at Denso, was recognized with a STEP Ahead Award by The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Carlson is being honored alongside more than 100 other women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their manufacturing careers. Winners represent all levels of the industry, from the factory floor to the C-suite.

Under Carlson’s leadership, Denso has expanded its D&I efforts, implementing resources to give people with dynamic backgrounds, including women, the support necessary to succeed. This has included the creation of a D&I council and business resource groups, which collaborate to foster more welcoming work environments; leadership training; and cultural education initiatives.

“As an engineer, I believe diversifying talent is important as it allows us to develop new ideas from different perspectives and bring innovation to the forefront of everything we do. Women are critical to this process,” Carlson said. “I’m proud to be honored among other industry leaders, who I admire for their strength and talents, and am eager to continue to grow Denso’s D&I efforts and ensure opportunity for all.”

One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers is the shortage of skilled talent to fill open positions, particularly as it relates to women; women account for about half of the U.S. labor force but represent less than one-third of the manufacturing workforce, according to Denso. Manufacturers can close the skills gap by 50% simply by bringing 10% more women into the industry. The STEP Ahead Awards are designed to help foster a 21st-century manufacturing workforce by empowering and inspiring women in the manufacturing industry through recognition, research and leadership, as well as by motivating alumnae to pay it forward by mentoring the next generation. In the program’s first five years, STEP Ahead Award winners impacted more than 300,000 individuals—from peers in the industry to school-age children. 

“Women in manufacturing proved themselves time and time again after the pandemic began, leading our industry in innovation and progress. We will honor these manufacturing leaders with the STEP Ahead Awards, elevating their success and granting them a platform to inspire the next generation of women manufacturing leaders,” said Carolyn Lee, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute. “The skills gap persisted throughout the pandemic, but our STEP Ahead honorees will help us fight it; they’ll play a crucial role in bringing more talented, motivated women into manufacturing. We’re confident these honorees will serve as living proof that women can dare to dream of a fulfilling, rewarding career in the industry.”

On November 4, The Manufacturing Institute will recognize Carlson among this year’s STEP Ahead Award recipients at a gala event in Washington, D.C. Each honoree’s story will be highlighted, including their leadership and accomplishments in manufacturing.

As a longstanding manufacturing industry advocate, Carlson is a driving force for innovation, diversity and inclusion at Denso International America. In recent years, her responsibilities shifted to include consolidating and leading safety, health and environment activities at Denso’s 51 North American locations.

To tackle the safety challenges of COVID-19, Carlson led the creation and implementation of consistent practices to ensure all plants were operating safely while still meeting customer needs. She and her team launched a detailed COVID-19 risk minimization toolkit and unveiled a 10-part initiative to build on Denso’s strong safety foundation. In 2019, Carlson was appointed as Denso’s first-ever executive lead for diversity and inclusion, working with a council to implement strategies that make Denso’s work environment more diverse, inclusive and collaborative.

Carlson is a strong role model for female employees whose leadership has paved the way for several other women to blaze trails in a male-dominated industry. Throughout her career, she has advocated for policies that help to attract and retain female employees, including flexible working hours, maternity leave and remote work.

Because of her efforts, the first department she led had the highest female ratio among engineering groups at Denso’s North America headquarters. She helped to align the company’s informal women’s organizations into one large charter, the Denso’s Women Partnership, and she has been vital to Denso’s involvement in the Society of Women Engineers conference and other diversity-focused events.

Carlson mentors the next generation of engineers and leaders through her work with FIRST Robotics and other STEM-based activities. For the past five years, she has mentored a local team, spending hundreds of hours working with students. She also sits on the boards of the Michigan Science Center and the Engineering Society of Detroit with the passion to work toward providing development opportunities for the next generation. She has coordinated events for Manufacturing Day and Girls in Engineering Academy Day, and she volunteers with Future City (Engineering Society of Detroit). In addition, she serves as a mentor for Steministas, which provides unique STEM experiences for girls in grades 4-8.

Denso is a $44.6 billion global mobility supplier, developing advanced technology and components, and it invests in its 200 facilities to produce thermal, powertrain, mobility, electrification and electronic systems, to create jobs that directly change how the world moves. The company’s almost 170,000 employees are paving the way to a mobility future designed to improve lives and preserve the environment. Globally headquartered in Kariya, Japan, Denso reported it spent 10% of its global consolidated sales on research and development in the fiscal year ending March 31.

In North America, Denso is headquartered in Southfield, Michigan, and employs more than 27,000 engineers, researchers and skilled workers in the United States, Canada and Mexico. In the fiscal year ending March 31, Denso in North America generated $9.3 billion in consolidated sales.

The Manufacturing Institute’s diverse initiatives support all American workers, including women, veterans and students, through skills training programs, community building and the advancement of their careers in manufacturing. As the workforce development and education partner of NAM, The Manufacturing Institute mission is to grow and support the manufacturing industry’s skilled workers for the advancement of modern manufacturing.