Just a quick drive south of the Design World offices in Cleveland are the Women in Manufacturing (WiM) headquarters. The trade association is dedicated to supporting women in manufacturing and currently includes more than 1,000 members from every job function – from production to the C-Suite. We recently visited the WiM offices to interview president Allison Grealis … and here’s what she had to say on training, leadership, and preparing women to successfully contribute to the industry.
Grealis • WiM: Women in Manufacturing is the only national trade association for women in manufacturing present-day. We engage with companies of diverse size — small to midsized privately held companies as well as large Fortune 100 and 500 companies. We represent the full gamut … and women who affiliate with us aren’t just engineers — they’re women in quality, women in production, packaging, women in assembly.
Eitel • Design World: What’s your main objective?
Grealis • WiM: We aim to support women in their efforts to advance in their careers in manufacturing. Women represent half the workforce in the U.S. but only 29% of the manufacturing workforce. Our goal is to increase that number to 50% … though even more important to us is to get more women to the C-suite and leadership teams that can help change directions of companies and manufacturing as a whole.
Eitel • Design World: Companies miss out if they’re not considering 100% of all human candidates and talent.
Grealis • WiM: Right — as when they’re not looking at both genders. We got started about eight years ago, as we saw women leaders in manufacturing had no support network. So we started with a conference in Cleveland in 2011, and 133 women participated. Demand for a way to connect year-round prompted us to quickly transform from just an event focus to a year-round membership-based organization. Of course, there are 1.5 million women in manufacturing, so we represent like 0.0003% of that total … so we have a ways to go.
Eitel • Design World: Do you connect young women with potential mentors?
Grealis • WiM: Students can join at a low rate, and we have individual professional members … and now professional-plus memberships for women veterans in manufacturing — those who maybe left manufacturing to consult perhaps. We also offer corporate memberships … at a base corporate amount to allow corporate members to have an unlimited number of individual members affiliate with their membership.
Eitel • Design World: So you provide networking opportunities and training. What kind of training?
Grealis • WiM: We offer virtual training on topics that are technical and related to professional development. We also deliver in-person training, workshops, and engagement via job fairs through our 16 chapters. Our management-development program supports those who rise through the ranks through technical skills but not necessarily skills to lead and manage others successfully. This training is for early-career individuals — with less than five years in manufacturing — and helps them develop leadership skills related to managing successful teams, operational budgets, and individual leadership styles. Some of our programs function as bootcamps for high-potential individuals who may one day be key leaders in an organization. Some sessions are in person and some virtual — so people get the cohort experience and some virtual learning. Then they get a completion certificate at the end of the program. Here in Cleveland, this training is in partnership with Corporate College.
But more formalized education we provide is via our Leadership Lab in conjunction with Case Western Reserve University — the only of its kind in the country. It’s for women in manufacturing and for those who are already are executives, supervisors, managers, or senior directors … and it aims to take them to the next level in their career via peer coaching, executive coaching, and 360° reviews. It also cultivates senior-leadership pieces that women in particular need to be successful.
Eitel • Design World: This relates to confidence issues?
Grealis • WiM: Even when they get to very elevated positions, women can still experience confidence issues in negotiations and communications. We tackle those things in this Leadership Lab. We’ve now graduated three classes … and the cohorts are great networks that stay connected well beyond the class to support and advise one another. We wanted the Lab to be solutions-oriented … and from 45 women graduates, more than half of them have earned a promotion since completion — so we believe this program works. It’s helping women to advance and fill in skill gaps.
Eitel • Design World: Where can people get more information on these classes?
Grealis • WiM: On womeninmanufacturing.org we have pages for chapters and pages listing upcoming training sessions. The virtual learning options come around every other month, and all classes are archived — so any member can watch everything we’ve uploaded since 2012 on demand.
Eitel • Design World: Where can WiM members meet?
Grealis • WiM: Our summit — our big annual membership meeting — is also one of our biggest educational offerings. Every year we hold it in a different city — but always a hub of manufacturing. Currently several hundred women come to attend sessions catered to executives, aspiring leaders, and CEOs and presidents.
Eitel • Design World: Do you engage women working in blue-collar positions?
Grealis • WiM: Much of that is at the chapter level. We know that not all women — especially in production or hourly work — can travel to the JW Indianapolis to be with us for three days. That said, we see key champions employ a nomination process internally to determine who gets to go to the summit — and it becomes quite competitive at some companies. Then we’ll see production teams or salaried and hourly individuals come to our conference, which is so very exciting to see. But or those who can’t come to our meetings, our virtual learning is one solution — in addition to our chapters’ outreach. It may be more likely that hourly rank and production go on local plant tours or hour-long workshops that may only take a bit of travel time. We see those as key ways to reach individuals … though we continue to ask how we can make ourselves more accessible to those in the hourly and production ranks.
Eitel • Design World: Many of today’s blue-collar and production functions are no longer reliant on brute strength — so may make sense for women. In the same way, some of the skills related to leadership aren’t technical.
Grealis • WiM: At a recent Institute for Process Excellence (IpX) conference on operational excellence (for Lean Six Sigma Black-Belt individuals) much of the discussion was about the workforce of the future … and how soft skills are often as important as technical skills — such as skills related to managing and how to be accountable and how to be a project manager. Such skills are really needed for the workforce of the future.
Eitel • Design World: Do you think women face challenges worth mentioning here?
Grealis • WiM: The confidence piece is key — so we seek ways to support women and give them the encouragement they need … so they’re not questioning their abilities. Unfortunately such doubt persists in male-dominated industries. Work-life integration is another key issue — and we should in manufacturing (and all industries really) ensure that we’re flexible enough to accommodate people who want to be active in family … for child care or elder care, for example — and active in career.
Much of our members’ discussions also center on workforce development and how to build pipelines of talent — to tell the story of modern manufacturing and break stereotypes. To this end, our Hear Her Story blog profiles women who describe what a workday is like for them.
Eitel • Design World: How do women change the industry?
Grealis • WiM: Research from our partner Catalyst indicates that diverse leadership teams make companies more profitable. Some manufacturing organizations are moving to collaborative models, and I think women naturally excel here.
Eitel • Design World: Flat organizational charts are lovely even when messy, as ultimately someone must be in charge of ensuring the team meets deadline and that sort of thing. It’s nice when a company structure is less about who’s holding power and more about getting the job done.
Grealis • WiM: Right — and it lets teams bring the right minds together to tackle challenges instead of siloing people. I think women often have that insight — and can figure out how to bring together the right teams to get work done and to be successful. The bottom line is that we’re going to be filling jobs the next few years that don’t even exist present day. I think it’s a very exciting time for women to go into manufacturing because many of these jobs are very collaborative and high-tech — very smart factory 4.0 — with exciting opportunities for women.
Eitel • Design World: At the recent IMTS, a contact at Wittenstein alerted me to the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT) Apprenticeship Program, as the organization was having an event collocated with the tradeshow. I wonder if such programs might also help women in manufacturing.
Grealis • WiM: ICATT is doing really cool things as it relates to apprenticeships, and sadly don’t have many women in their programs — but it’s a great model. I think many companies are devising their own internal apprenticeship programs or fostering relationships with community colleges to build that pipeline of people into their workplace.
Eitel • Design World: We currently lack the infrastructure in the U.S. but could certainly benefit from partial adoption of Germany’s model — leveraging Berufsakademies and the Dual Education System to connect manufacturers with students for job-specific training and subsequent job placement.
Grealis • WiM: Yeah — for sure. One of our key aims beyond education is helping our chapters connect with parents, because it really starts there — helping kids get a good first impression of manufacturing — and educating moms and dads along with their children … as we’ll be more successful in potentially recruiting if they have a positive feeling about manufacturing — and a better understanding of what a manufacturing career is all about.
The same goes for career counselors … though in Germany and elsewhere it’s very esteemed to choose the skilled trades … and unfortunately that’s not the mantra present-day in the U.S. It’s not something that we revere — people skilled at working with their hands and skilled mechanically. It’s sad we don’t celebrate these people just choosing a different path. I think it’s got to change within classrooms and with counselors and parents — so that it’s just as exciting if Jane goes into working for Tesla as an engineer, as if she becomes an attorney. We definitely still have a divide. It helps that there’s a lot of excitement and knowledge about automated vehicles and companies like Tesla, for example. But that excitement should extend to all manufacturing — and so we still have a ways to go.
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Filed Under: Women in Engineering