The second annual Women in Manufacturing Summit (October 29-30) aims to attract more women to careers in manufacturing.
Associate Editor, Modern Machine Shop
Organized by the PMA’s Women in Manufacturing Initiative, the summit reflects the conviction that women can aid U.S. manufacturing by filling the industry’s skilled job openings. With jobs being a hot-button issue of this year’s presidential election, filling those openings seems all the more pressing. Women aren't applying for those jobs, however, because many are unaware of or uninterested in careers in manufacturing. Women who do work in the industry say that more efforts are needed to attract female workers.
The problem is multifaceted. One issue is that gender stereotypes continue to steer women away from careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries. Another is that the lack of women in manufacturing is part of the larger perception problem that the industry faces. Potential workers (both men and women) are still being turned off by manufacturing’s reputation as dirty and dangerous. And in an industry that is still very much populated by men, women who do find themselves in the manufacturing sector may feel isolated or singled out, lacking mentors or role models. According to Lisa Habe, president of Interlake Industries (Willoughby, Ohio), it isn't uncommon for her to be outnumbered by men 10 to one at industry meetings. Without a network of other women to look to, manufacturing can be an intimidating industry.
The Women in Manufacturing Summit arose out of these unmet needs of women in the industry. The summit’s beginning dates back to a small group meeting of PMA members who attended Fabtech in 2009. These women gathered to discuss industry best practices and the challenges they faced as minorities in the field. The group met twice more in 2010, and in 2011 they hosted a leadership program titled “Partnering with Horses” at the Pebble Ledge Ranch in Novelty, Ohio. The success and popularity of these early meetings pushed the group members to think bigger. The group became the PMA’s Women in Manufacturing Initiative, and its small, intimate gatherings grew into the first Women in Manufacturing Summit, which met in Cleveland, Ohio, October 2011.
Women in Manufacturing isn’t all about girl power, though. It’s also about educational experiences, networking opportunities and best practices in the manufacturing industry. The inaugural event offered keynote presentations on management, leadership and communication strategies. This year’s summit will feature four educational tracks, a series of roundtables, a panel discussion on “Manufacturing Best Practices,” and speakers from well-known companies including Gayle Tauber (Kashi), Gail Lione (Harley-Davidson), Jennifer McNelly (The Manufacturing Institute) and Laurie Harbour (Harbour Results), among others.
Like the inaugural summit, the 2012 event aims to strengthen the network of women already involved in manufacturing. However, in light of the estimated 600,000 skilled manufacturing job openings in the United States, the event has the additional goal of developing ideas and programs to attract more women to the industry. If women are to be part of the jobs solution for manufacturing, they need to be aware that such jobs exist and are rewarding career choices for women. “Women have the skill needed by our industry,” says Allison Grealis, head of the PMA’s Women in Manufacturing Initiative. “It’s up to us to show them the opportunities available in manufacturing.”
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