In the second of our 3-part series, we explore how manufacturing companies resolve obstacles to workforce attraction, retention and advancement in a fascinating interview with Allison Grealis, president of Women in Manufacturing (WiM). WiM is a national trade organization with over 1,500 members actively working in manufacturing industries and focused on supporting, promoting and inspiring women in the manufacturing sector.
RB: Why is there a need for a women-specific trade organization in manufacturing?
AG: A WiM member explained the value of WiM this way: “Sometimes you just need a sounding board and the comfort of knowing that you’re not alone.”
Right now, women make up about 29% of the manufacturing workforce. WiM meets an important need to bring women together, across companies and sectors, to share best practices and strategies for success in manufacturing.
We’ve been doing this work for eight years. Back then, WiM was a little networking group with a handful of participants. Today, WiM is a national trade association with over 1,500 members. Our rapid growth is a reflection of the growing recognition that diversity in the workforce is important. Bringing women together to focus on career advancement is an important part of the ongoing change we want to see in our industry.
RB: What are the key components of a gender-balanced manufacturing organization? What benefits can we expect to see by removing obstacles that prevent women from seeking careers in manufacturing?
AG: It’s important to note that not only is manufacturing good for women, but women are also good for manufacturing. The benefits to bringing more women into manufacturing are numerous, but here are two practical ones: First, as we all know, manufacturing has a significant skills gap. To fill it, we need to look at more than 50% of the population. Women must be recruited in every role to address our industry’s need. Secondly, when there are more women in manufacturing companies and taking on leadership roles, we will see manufacturing companies grow and our industry as a whole thrive. Research tells us that when companies are more diverse, and when there are more women at the leadership table, those companies are more profitable.
Achieving gender balance for most manufacturing companies is a long-term goal. But companies who want to retain and promote women into leadership roles should implement strategies like (1) Taking steps to keep the work interesting and challenging; (2) Supporting flexible work schedules; (3) Providing opportunities for professional development and educational and training programs; and (4) Identifying and enhancing the visibility of leaders.
RB: Your membership is made of up women actively working in the manufacturing sector. Can you tell us why female mentorship is particularly important in manufacturing? Does WiM provide outreach?
AG: Mentorship is important in all fields, but mentors can be especially valuable in workplaces and careers where it can be a challenge to find similarly situated role models. As it has been often said, “It is difficult to be what you can’t see.”
WiM offers extensive networking opportunities to help women at all levels and locations connect with each other, find mentors, and build the networks they’ll need for success. We host a range of professional programming events at the national level as do our 16 local chapters across the country. And we have a robust membership directory online so that our members can find each other and make connections.
RB: How do you envision support from Dassault Systèmes and other corporate sponsors toward achieving WiM’s mission?
AG: The support of Corporate WiM Members is vital to providing the opportunities and programming that our members enjoy. At the same time, Corporate Members like Dassault Systèmes can and should connect their women employees with WiM’s resources in order to better their skills and strengthen their networks. For example, WiM operates a number of leadership development programs from a virtual learning series to immersive training courses. These programs can help support the next generation of women leaders, something that benefits our Corporate Members and our industry as a whole.
RB: Manufacturing industries such as aerospace, automotive, defense and industrial products have not been very successful at attracting and keeping female workers. What could manufacturing learn from Life Sciences and other industries that have achieved better outcomes in recruiting and retention?
AG: While it’s true that there is lots of work to do to recruit and retain women in industry careers, we are seeing signs of progress. You mentioned automotive and defense. Right now, GM has a woman CEO and CFO. And, at the start of 2019, four of the top five defense companies in the U.S. will be led by women. Of course, these case studies in success do not mean that our work is done, but they do show that traditionally male-dominated industries are capable of change. There is a lot of reason for optimism. WiM is focused on building on the change we’re seeing to help companies retain and advance women and help women thrive in manufacturing careers.
RB: Thank you for sharing your insights, and your time.
Now that you’ve read this insightful interview with Allison Grealis, take a deeper dive by reading about the coming skills gap in manufacturing, as well as a recap of the exciting events at the 8th Annual WiM Summit.
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