Although women make up nearly half of the working population across the U.S.A., they remain largely underrepresented in the manufacturing industry.
But in the last few years, positive trends in the industry’s attitude towards recruiting, retaining, and advancing women has moved the needle toward a more female-friendly environment. Still, leaders in the field say there’s much work to be done.
Since the 1970s, women's share of jobs in the industry has remained at around a third of the employment pool, peaking in 1990 before declining to 29 percent in 2016.
Allison Grealis, president of Women in Manufacturing, says growth in women’s participation is essential and that the manufacturing sector is a good place for women to find rewarding careers. A recent study showed that the average earnings for female manufacturing industry workers were higher than in most other industries.
Women are also part of solving the skills gap that plagues the manufacturing sector, says Grealis, arguing that women have the potential to make the whole sector stronger.
Female manufacturing workers are less likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to all other workers, indicating that the industry needs women in leadership roles as well.
Grealis says there are several strategies that companies are implementing to retain and promote women into leadership roles, like taking steps to keep the work interesting and challenging, supporting flexible work schedules, providing opportunities for professional development and education programs, and enhancing the visibility of leaders.
Sterling Heights' Senior Economic Development Advisor Luke Bonner says he’s in a fortunate position to meet many women leading manufacturing companies in the community. STEM education programs and manufacturing open days are changing perceptions of women’s roles and he says several women leaders have taken up family-owned manufacturing businesses in the city after being inspired and influenced by their parents’ work.
Metromode spoke with four women leading manufacturing firms in Sterling Heights to find out more about how they are steering their companies and their industry.
PATRICIA LOPEZ, PRESIDENT, ROSE-A-LEE TECHNOLOGIES
Patricia Lopez has been pushing limits in the sector, gaining recognition as the most “Notable Woman in Manufacturing” by Crain's Detroit Business this year.
Her previous experience in both the automotive and defense sectors has been an asset to her work as president of Rose-A-Lee Technologies (RAL), which she formed with her sister in 2013 to supply custom fabrications for the U.S. Government.
The company has experienced nearly 400 percent growth this year alone, but Lopez says the current shortage of skilled manufacturing labor nationwide makes talent retention and development the most challenging part of her work.
It’s something that has prompted her to support change-making initiatives, and Lopez says she wants to increase female participation in manufacturing.
“Our education system is producing too few graduates grounded in STEM disciplines; an under-appreciation of the favorable wages in U.S. manufacturing,” she says.
DONNA ZOBEL, PRESIDENT AND CEO, MYRON ZUCKER, INC.
When Donna Zobel inherited her father’s company Myron Zucker Inc, she almost decided to liquidate the business. “We were losing money,” she says, “It was bad.”
Instead, once she realized how steady her customer base was (including Rockwell Automation and Ford Motor Company), she knuckled down to get the company “back in the black.”
They trimmed down on staff and relocated to Sterling Heights from Royal Oak, a move that brought the small company closer to clients like Chrysler and local suppliers. Zobel says being a small business has meant they’ve been able to do well.
“Sometimes one of the exciting things is that some of these bigger companies are looking to us to be their manufacturer,” she says.
Zobel is passionate about renewable energy and is excited about manufacturing’s role in the field in the future.
“Manufacturing can play a role in optimizing our utility grid; we can be part of the solution,” she says.
SARA BLACKMER, PRESIDENT, RAVE COMPUTER
While Sara Blackmer loves what she does as the president of RAVE Computer, one element she’s particularly passionate about is mentoring and growing personnel at her company. She admits being a successful business leader is difficult in manufacturing, regardless of gender but that who you surround yourself with is key.
“I think you just develop your style, work at 100 percent effort, respect the skills and knowledge of the team, and then you gain trust and respect from your teams to drive forward growth and innovation.” Blackmer can’t wait to see how the technology and computer manufacturing field grows, particularly in the realm of Artificial Intelligence. “It will fundamentally change the way we live,” she says. “RAVE will play a role in that.”
CARLEEN GRAY, CEO, GROUPSTAHL
Carleen Gray graduated from Central Michigan University in Textile Construction and Fashion Merchandising and has gone on to become the North American CEO of GroupeSTAHL. The company is known for its sports garment manufacturing and is currently tripling its capacity in Michigan-based distribution facility.
“It’s an exciting time driven by trends, social media, fashion, and sports,” says Gray. She says she hasn’t been focusing on her gender minority as a CEO but on being the first internal associate to be promoted to the job.
“I think it sends the ‘anything is possible’ message to the organization,” she says. “I hope I can serve as a role model for new employees and individuals starting in the workforce to show them that you can achieve anything if you work hard and always put passion into everything you do.”
Interested in knowing more about women in manufacturing leadership? Join Metromode for a public panel discussion at Velocity, Sterling Heights, on October 25, 6 pm - 8 pm. RSVP for this important event by clicking here.
Story featured on Metromode - Kate Roff - secondwavemedia.com/Metromode