Women’s Work: A Glimpse at the Changing Face of Manufacturing
Career Development As the skills gap looms over the U.S. manufacturing sector, there is much discussion about the role of women in manufacturing.
Despite concerns about women’s potential disinterest in a field considered dirty or dangerous, research shows that women in manufacturing like their jobs and would recommend the field to other women. In a 2014 survey by Women in Manufacturing (WiM), over 80 percent of women reported that manufacturing offers interesting and challenging work, and nearly 75 percent said that it offers multiple potential career paths.
But what do those numbers really mean? In an interview with WiM chairperson Gretchen Zierick and treasurer Catherine Werner, we examine what life is like for women in manufacturing today.
WiM: Tell us about your start in manufacturing and how you got to where you are today?
Catherine Werner: I started my career in environmental consulting, working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency and learning about environmental regulations and their application to industry. As a consultant, I traveled extensively and supported multiple manufacturing sectors including healthcare, aviation, and automotive. Eventually, I decided to work for one of my commercial clients. Seventeen years later, I still work for General Electric (GE) and currently serve as the Environmental, Health and Safety Leader for the Appliances business.
"I believe that when we make good products, we are helping make the world a better place."
Gretchen Zierick: For me, manufacturing is a family business. I started working for Zierick Manufacturing during summers and vacations when I was 15 years old. I loved working in production control, evaluating inventory levels against the requests of multiple customers and managing schedules so there was always supply for the demand. I came back full-time after college and am now the company president.
WiM: Have you faced any unique challenges or adversity as a woman in manufacturing?
GZ: I’ve learned that the best way to earn the respect of my male colleagues is to show them respect in return. In a working environment, it’s always important to acknowledge experience and expertise. When people are given credit for what they know, they are more willing to cooperate and help others learn.
CW: I agree that respect is important and so is hard work. While I have worked in several male-dominated fields, I’ve been fortunate to work for companies with strong meritocracy-based cultures. In my experience, delivering results will trump gender bias every time.
WiM: What strategies best support women who have chosen a related career?
GZ: From a company perspective, the best strategy is having a management team with a positive attitude about women in the workplace. That's a key component to a diverse and successful culture.
CW: And from an individual perspective, it’s important to seek mentoring relationships with both men and women. A great mentor will invest time, candidly give feedback on how to improve, and help navigate career choices. I’ve also found it helpful to connect with women in leadership roles from other professional sectors. It’s a great way to learn, leverage best practices and gain inspiration. That’s one of the reasons I got involved with WiM.
WiM: Would you recommend manufacturing to other women?
CW: I continue to enjoy my career in manufacturing and definitely recommend it. You will learn how to work individually and in teams on deadlines and on budget with integrity and quality. You will experience great camaraderie as you work safely together to provide world-class products and services around the world.
GZ: I also love working in manufacturing. I recommend careers in manufacturing to women and men alike—anyone who likes to create. I believe that when we make good products, we are helping make the world a better place.