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The Present and Future of Women in Manufacturing

03 February, 2023

The number of women holding manufacturing jobs and other employment in industry is increasing but could use improvement. Manufacturers discuss Women in Manufacturing for #USAMfgHour on Twitter.


For years, women steadily have been making achievements in science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up a third of today's manufacturing workforce. Recognizing achievements, finding more ways to empower women, and solidifying future women leaders in manufacturing are just some examples of how businesses can help keep the equality movement in full force. Susie Chandler and Sam Dalton of Advanced Superabrasives, manufacturer of diamond and cubic boron nitride grinding wheels, in North Carolina, led the #USAMfgHour chat this week on Women in Manufacturing.

Women of Influence

Whether a woman in history or a coworker, the group was asked: Who has been a significant influence in life when it comes to manufacturing?

"Julie Kaul is one of our Software Project Managers," said Kirsten Austin of DCSC in Missouri. "She understands manufacturing so well!"

"I will go with my wife," said Dan Bigger of Chenango Valley Technologies in New York. "She is a one-person company that does glass jewelry and gifts. Also, all of you women here (#USAMfgHour). You are all so helpful and insightful in what you all do."

"Any woman bold enough to step forward in the manufacturing world," said Sue Nordman of Obsidian Manufacturing in Illinois. "Personally speaking, it can be intimidating at times. The strongest influence in my life in the manufacturing world would be my dad."

"My mother. She was VP of a sanitary supply manufacturer when I was growing up," said RICO Manufacturing in Ohio. "I enjoyed walking around the facilities with her to see the people and large machines at work!"

"Our owner founder is Claire Smart," said Duralabel. "What started from humble beginnings in the family home is now a midsize company - still in Beaverton. DuraLabel is global. Celebrating 50 years."

"Lucy Fonseca, a great production and engineer manager in southern California," said Lermit Diaz of SCTools in Michigan.

"We are a true woman-owned business," said Penny from Extreme Molding in New York. "Two women that worked together at St Gobain plastics decided to form @EMolding. We are definitely a woman-friendly business. As a matter of fact, we're getting ready to hire another engineer and she is a graduate from (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)."

"We love our lady, Rosie," said Advanced Superabrasives. "During WWII, and during a 5-year span, her #WeCanDoIt campaign increased the percentage of females in the workforce by nearly 10%! Her influence also gave women the confidence to fight for gender diversity rights."

There are numerous benefits to having a diverse workforce in manufacturing. Why is gender diversity important and how will it impact the future of manufacturing?

"This one is a little tough for me to answer because I don't look at my role here as any different than if a man was sitting in my chair," said Nordman. "The women in manufacturing pioneers before me have laid the groundwork for me being accepted here."

"It is very important," said Bigger. "I would say here at CVT we are about 50/50. Our women workers are some of our best. They do a great job and genuinely care about the job that they do and the quality in which they do it."

"Opens wide the field of opportunity, perspective, and talent," said speaker/author Dondi Scumaci. "Breaks through real and perceived barriers. Inspires women to think differently about their possibilities and contribution. Amplifies the impact we can have."

"Gender diversity offers differing perspectives, problem-solving skills, and insights," said Rebecca Hart of DSI/Dynamatic. "As long as there is more gender equality in #mfg, the industry can be more well-rounded with opportunities for more business!"

" The stereotype is that women are more emotional," said Stablz in Georgia. "When it comes to business and taking care of clients, I'd argue the opposite is true. Whereas a lot of men get caught up in the testosterone-driven heat of the moment, most women never take a client for granted. No one can shut down petty bickering in the name of moving past our differences quite like #moms."

"Women think differently and they could provide additional approaches when it comes to problem-solving. At SCTools women are the majority," said Diaz.

"By embracing gender diversity manufacturers can increase their candidate pool to fill much-needed manufacturing positions and skilled trades," said JD from Cleveland Deburring in Ohio. 

"I think it is important. But I think we need to eradicate the stigma around women going into what are typically considered more blue-collar industries like trades, manufacturing, STEM, etc.," said Jennifer Wegman, a marketing professional in Pennsylvania. "Until that happens, I'm not sure we can achieve it. I'm always meeting new people. But Kirsten @DCSCInc has been a great lead for me to get familiar with the manufacturing space."

"It starts at school. Women role models speaking to classes at 10 years, 15 years, and again at universities to show STEM and Trades are open for them, will start the process. Never stop spreading the word," said Nigel Packer of PelaTis in Wales.

"I really like this suggestion, Nigel. Visibility creates credibility," Felix Nater concurred, from Nater Associates

"By embracing gender diversity manufacturers can increase their candidate pool to fill much-needed manufacturing positions and skilled trades," said JD.

"Women are important assets for any company! They bring in fresh perspectives, unique ideas, and new solutions," said Advanced Superabrasives. "Gender diversity puts a company in a position for continuous improvements, growth, and development."

The group of manufacturers then was asked if they offer education, mentor programs, apprenticeships, or any other program to educate and acquire female workers.

"At this time we have nothing specific to females, though I will be reaching out to high schools in 2021, specifically to the STEM programs, to inspire the interest of young women in manufacturing," said Hart.

"We do have apprenticeship programs that are open to all, not just men or women," said Bigger.

"As we grow, I'd love to sponsor or establish a program like that. I advocate as much as I can for a woman in manufacturing. Nearly as much as I do to fill the skilled trades gap. I'm passionate about both of those things," said Nordman.

"As a consultant, I design Mentoring Communities and content to empower people," said Scumaci.

"At #ASI, we offer apprenticeships and internships to local college students as well as host tours to local schools," said Advanced Superabrasives. "Our programs paired with our deep involvement in the community supports encourages and inspires young adults who will be shaping our future."

Keeping Momentum

More businesses seem to be encouraging women to work in manufacturing and take other types of industrial jobs. However, how can manufacturers increase the retention of female employees?

"When it comes to women in SCTools, the rotation is very low, we have an excellent retention rate," said Diaz.

"Treat them the same as you do everyone else and make sure your managers do the same. If you still have retention problems, it probably isn't because of their gender. Just sayin'," said Stablz.

"Recognition is extremely important and all levels of seniority are held up to the same standards as others. Equality, support, and respect. Simple as that," said Advanced Superabrasives.

"I've seen some remarkable work around this topic. It takes business empathy - understanding at the macro (group) and micro (individual) level what attracts and discourages, what motivates and demotivates, what challenges and inspires," said Scumaci. "One more thought on this one. I think when humans FEEL their impact when they FEEL connected to the big picture they work in context. CONNECTION is a retention strategy."

"Honestly, a good work-life balance is so very important to women. If a good policy is in place, it's one thing among many likely to retain women," said Hart. "I'll do any job as long as my life is also managed well outside of that."

"Create and manage a culture of respectability and flexibility and watch the retention rates soar," said Nater.

"Manufacturers need to make sure that female employees are provided the same opportunities for both advancement and pay as their male counterparts," said Cleveland Deburring. 

"Yes yes yes! Growth opportunities are extremely important to any gender. But specifically, for women it can help those who feel discouraged," said Advanced Superabrasives. "SUPPORT! Providing a healthy working environment, practicing gender equality, and by bringing new ideas and solutions to support women who are currently working in the manufacturing industry."

Improvements are continuously being made in our daily lives. Is the current education system having an impact on the low percentile of women in manufacturing or other STEM careers? If so, how?

"I think the education system focuses on English, Math, and Science and neglects outside opportunities in manufacturing and other industries for women and men," said Bigger. "Manufacturing and topics like it are glanced over. There is almost zero focus on anything. Very little art, music, and other creative arts. Certainly, very little on manufacturing. It is all driven to get them into college and no focus on the end goals of a career."

"More needs to be done with our country's youth to encourage a manufacturing mindset as they grow and mature," said Nordman. "Engineers, machinists, all skilled labor. Learning by doing things with their hands and minds-building, shaping, and growing."

"Our current educational system lacks many things but I think it falls on us, the #ManufacturingIndustry, to build awareness of the opportunities for a good, stable career in our world via #MFGDay20, apprenticeships, H.S. tours of facilities, etc.," said Cleveland Deburring.

"I think it is systemic. We're still maturing as a species and have only begun to learn that it is not up to us to determine anyone else's future for them," said Stablz.

"Manufacturing is advertised as a male-dominated industry, and it's common for women to feel discouraged," said Advanced Superabrasives. "With the continuation of education and awareness of gender diversity, we will soon see an increase in the percentage of female workers in #STEM careers."

About #USAMfgHour

Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.

Are you interested in hosting a #USAMfgHour chat? Contact organizers @CVTPlastics, @DCSCinc, and @SocialSMktg.