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Why Women are Turning to Manufacturing as a Career

Women work in all aspects of companies that use or manufacture valves. Although the industry might not be as progressive as some others, more and more companies realize the value of having a diverse mix of employees then actively recruiting and retaining that mix. They are also looking at women as a possible source for filling the “skills gap” that the entire manufacturing world now faces.

One reason for the lack of females is that many girls and young women don’t know much about the opportunities manufacturing present so they don’t think of industrial businesses as a career option. Programs that expose elementary and middle-school students to STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and manufacturing can lay the groundwork needed to understand where that opportunity lies.

That view is held by Shannon Ostendorff, senior manager of maintenance at Lonza Group, Bend, OR. Lonza is a company that provides research and development and manufacturing services to pharmaceuticals and other industries. Ostendorff explains that when she was in sixth grade, she and five others attended a STEM program for girls at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). By the time she was a sophomore in high school, Ostendorff had decided she wanted to be a chemical engineer. Another bit of outreach clinched this idea: when she was a senior in high school, working to make money to cover college application expenses, the Society of Women Engineers at CSM contacted her and offered to pay her application fee if she applied to that school.

Besides such early programs, some women say that one of their avenues for learning about manufacturing opportunities is other women. In her first manufacturing job, Mary Rozakis, regional manager, West Coast, Southeast, India and Australia, for PBM, Inc., Irwin PA, says there were two women who influenced her despite the fact they were not engineers by trade. One had been a teacher while the other had been a librarian.

“This is a thing women should understand,” Rozakis says. “Maybe you’re not an engineer or have an engineering degree. But if you have mechanical aptitude and don’t mind getting a little dirty, you would do well in manufacturing.” This is because women are typically good at multitasking, attention to detail and keeping track of what is happening around them—all useful in the manufacturing environment.

MINDING THE GAP

Management in almost all manufacturing industries is struggling to deal with the skills gap brought on by the reality that older, skilled, experienced workers are retiring at the same time that finding new hires with technical skills is becoming more difficult. A report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute quotes Bureau of Labor Statistics that show this gap: “As recently as August 2018, there were 508,000 open jobs in U.S. manufacturing, part of the best annual job sector gain in more than 20 years.” However, the skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028:

The bureau also says that in 2018 women represented 46.9% of the workforce over 16 years of age. However, women were 29.2% of people employed in manufacturing.

A blog post from the U.S. Census bureau offers more detail on women working in manufacturing as of 2016 (Figure 1).

WIM chartFigure 1. Women and men in different segments of the manufacturing workforce (Graphic courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of the Census)

This shows that women in the manufacturing industries matched men in numbers only in the sales and office group, where women held 51.7% of the jobs. In other work groups, women made up between 5.5% of the workforce and 28%. This shows that there is plenty of room for expansion of women in industry.

BOOST THE BOTTOM LINE

In addition to helping to fill job openings, having a more gender-balanced staff can improve the bottom line, other studies show. A 2017 study by the Boston Consulting group found that innovation (and revenue from innovation) increased significantly in companies where management included at least 20% women.

RECRUITING

In an August 2018 post on www.forbes.com, Rotterdam School of Management professor Meir Shemla wrote that, though increasing diversity in a company has many benefits, it is challenging to execute.

Meanwhile, a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and The Manufacturing Institute outlines what diversity and inclusion practices are currently used and explains that it is vital for companies to make sure their diversity practices align with their organizational goals. This is because an approach that works for one company will not necessarily work for another.

Companies that recognize the value of employing a diverse workforce seek out a wide range of job candidates, looking for not just gender diversity, but also ethnic, disability and other kinds of variety. Some companies take an intentional approach to reducing bias toward job candidates, such as doing a blind resume review, with name and other identifying information removed from resumes.

RETAINING WOMEN

Another part of the picture is keeping the women that are there in place both to help with the skills gap and spread the word to other women. That means keeping them satisfied and providing opportunity. New employees need to know a company will provide what they need to succeed at work.

One prime way of doing this is flexibility. That means flexibility for all employees, not just women.

“Everyone has had something come up,” in their lives, says Linda Spangler, president, Champion Valves, Inc., Wilmington NC. Her company makes sure they can deal with such issues. For example, “If they have had a new baby, they can work from home.”

Ostendorff adds that, “When you’re tied to operations and equipment support, you have to have an element of emergency response at all times. This is hard when you have a family, and, especially if you’re a single mom.” She gives an example from her own background. When she headed up the Bend, OR, public water/wastewater/stormwater system, Ostendorff was on call. If there was flooding, she had to drive around and see the flooding, directing the repair teams. One storm in particular found her without child care.

She recalls thinking, “I can’t do this. But I talked to my boss about it, and he valued me enough that they restructured the job.” After that instance, she was able to support the needs of the system by phone. In her current position, the on-call responsibilities are split so each of four people is on call one week per month.

Companies that learn to take such smart moves definitely have an advantage, while companies that can’t learn flexibility, “exclude a big section of the work force.”

HELPING EACH OTHER

One of the strongest influences on women in any career including in manufacturing, is the support of other women.

Rozakis started “Chicks in Charge” for the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE). This women’s mentoring group has also begun to pick up women from the ASME [American Society of Mechanical Engineers] Bioprocessing Equipment group.

“Women have a lot to contribute,” to the mechanical and technical industries,” Rozakis says. In places where such groups don’t exist, she suggested looking into starting them.

Rozakis also has noticed a positive new trend in industry: Men who have daughters are learning to help the women they work alongside. “They [these men] look at us differently than the ‘old boys club.’ They want to uplift their daughters like they would their sons,” she said.

Ostendorff was part of a group that initiated a women’s program at the annual Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association conference. More than 100 women meet at the event every year. Ostendorff served on the committee that started a formal mentoring program in the organization. It’s not limited to women as members, but the women who sign up definitely benefit from their membership. Ostendorff was at one time a mentee herself, matched with a mentor who was head of a large utility. Their relationship has lasted long after the original one-year commitment, and Ostendorff tells how her mentor coached her through leadership challenges, work negotiations and changing jobs when she was pregnant.

Such relationships are not only beneficial to the mentor/mentees, but to the companies. But it is up to the individual to take advantage.

Vinatha Nathan, currently vice president/general manager at Crane Co., Signal Hill, CA said that in her first job, the company had a serious mentoring program.

“They gave me a mentor; I doubled down on my work load.” She was extra-motivated she said, because “that mentor’s reputation was on the line.”

However, later she noticed that, “Nobody was coming behind me to be a role model for.” She got a wakeup call when a friend commented, “It’s up to you to bring in the women to come behind you.” Since then, Nathan has made a point of ensuring the job candidate pool is diverse. She also keeps track of the new employees, making sure the organization hears them and knows what they need.

With the skills gap widening as the need for a diverse workforce grows, more and more manufacturing companies will recruit women and find ways to keep them on board by offering opportunities. Once they’re in a company, women can find the challenges and learning opportunities they need to grow as individuals. Hopefully, they’ll also find ways to bring even more women into the workforce.


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is Web editor at VALVE Magazine  

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