Women In Manufacturing: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

women driving forklift in manufacturing facility

Rosie the Riveter may be the most well-known woman in manufacturing history. Except Rosie was an idea and not a specific person. She represented bold and determined women who entered the industrial workforce during World War II. Rosie symbolizes empowerment for working women, whose strength carried the American economy during a most desperate hour. 

In a male-dominated field like manufacturing, women benefit from having female role models. These role models can demonstrate the various roles women can pursue in the industry. When women see other women succeeding in manufacturing, it can inspire them to consider working in that field. Female role models can inspire women to join the manufacturing industry by breaking down barriers and stereotypes.

But there were women in manufacturing long before Rosie’s first poster. The continual involvement is critical for the industry’s future.  

History of Women in Manufacturing

Sarah Breedlove, also known as Madam C.J. Walker, was one of the first women in manufacturing. She opened a factory and beauty school in 1908, training sales beauticians and producing a cosmetics line. Her success inspired many women to pursue dreams of manufacturing their own products as business owners. 

A few years later, America entered the first world war. Many men left their jobs to join the military, but the demand for wartime production remained.

Women filled these empty roles in factories, operating drill presses, welding equipment, cranes, screw machines, and metalworking equipment. They led manual labor, production design, lab testing, drafting rooms, and logistics during the war. 

Unfortunately, many women lost their jobs when the men returned from war. During a global crisis, more women started working again. The percentage of working women increased from 26 to 36 percent between 1940 and 1945.

After World War II, men took over many jobs from women. However, more women chose to stay in the workforce, especially in manufacturing jobs.  

Changes Fueling Womens’ Role In Industry

Women make up almost half of the US workforce, but US Census Bureau data shows they only hold about 30% percent of 15.8 million manufacturing jobs and 25% of manufacturing leadership positions. But women continue to make inroads as more companies recognize the value of an integrated and inclusive workplace.

Diversity boosts the bottom line, fosters more creative environments, and improves employee morale and retention. As more women see the benefits of manufacturing, their opinions about the industry are changing. Many now see opportunities for themselves in this exciting field.

In recent decades, several organizations have founded to support women in manufacturing. In 2011, Allison Grealis founded the nonprofit trade association Women in Manufacturing (WiM).

Since then, WiM has become the only national and global organization that offers ongoing help to women in manufacturing. WiM has over 10,000 members representing more than 2,000 manufacturing companies in 48 U.S. states and 35 countries worldwide.

Other organizations providing resources and helping women in manufacturing succeed include:

  • The Manufacturing Institute supports women in manufacturing by recognizing their work, doing research, and developing leaders. They encourage women to share their knowledge with the next generation. 
  • STEP Ahead Awards – Recognizing leaders and top talent in manufacturing to encourage the next generation of female talent to pursue modern manufacturing careers.
  • Society of Women Engineers – Providing hundreds of scholarships to women preparing for careers in engineering, including manufacturing engineering.
  • Influential Women In Manufacturing – Recognizing and honoring women who enact change in manufacturing and industrial production spaces. 

Increasing Opportunities for Women in Manufacturing

Automation, augmentation, and many other new technologies are developing rapidly and changing the workplace. Future manufacturing jobs will need specialized skills, but talent, innovation, and leadership will remain crucial alongside technology. 

Groups like Women in Manufacturing offer networking, career resources, and educational support to help women advance in manufacturing.

Many chances exist for women in STEM to lead in manufacturing. Female students can also make a difference in the future of this field. 

Shannon Winans, marketing director at PAC Machinery, said in WiM’s 2022 Impact Newsletter that women at her company have demonstrated leadership. They have done this by solving problems and improving processes.

They are change-makers in the organization. There has never been a better time for women to not only be in manufacturing but to make a positive difference in business.”

Looking to the Future

At ProcessBarron, our female employees bring innovation and excellence to our workplace. We are eager to see how women change the future of manufacturing, both in our company and worldwide! 

Women are critical to the industrial manufacturing future. If you’re interested in being part of this exciting industry, check out our job openings! We have several part-time and full-time manufacturing positions available. We’d love for you to join our team!