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. She symbolized empowerment for working women, whose strength carried the American economy during a most desperate hour.
But there were women in manufacturing long before Rosie’s first poster, and their continued involvement is critical for the industry’s future.
History of Women in Manufacturing
One of the first women in manufacturing was Sarah Breedlove, more commonly known by her married name, Madam C.J. Walker. 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. Not only did they lead manual labor efforts during the war, but they were also involved in production design, lab testing, drafting rooms, and logistics.
Unfortunately, many women were laid off when the men returned from war. But it wouldn’t be long before women were returned to the workforce during a global crisis, with the percentage of working women increasing from 26 to 36 percent between 1940 and 1945.
After World War II, many jobs performed by women during the war went to men returning from war, but this time, more women pursued options to remain in the workforce, including 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 industry recognizes these benefits, opinions about manufacturing are changing among women, and many have begun to see a place for themselves in this exciting and challenging industry.
In recent decades, several organizations have been founded to support women in manufacturing. In 2011, Allison Grealis founded the nonprofit trade association Women in Manufacturing (WiM). Since then, WiM has grown to be the only national and global trade association that provides continual support 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. Learn more about this incredible organization here!
Other organizations providing resources and helping women in manufacturing succeed include:
- The Manufacturing Institute – Empowering women in manufacturing through recognition, research, and leadership and encouraging them to share their skills 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 jobs in manufacturing will require more specialized skills than ever before, but talent, transformation, innovation, and leadership will always be just as important as technology.
Organizations like Women in Manufacturing provide networking opportunities, career development resources, and support educational programs to further the advancement of women in the manufacturing field.
There are countless opportunities for women currently in the field seeking leadership positions and female students considering a career in STEM to impact the future of manufacturing.
As Shannon Winans, marketing director for PAC Machinery, recently said in WiM’s 2022 Impact Newsletter, “I have seen women in my company take ownership, problem solve, and create process improvements. 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.” See the newsletter and their advice to women in manufacturing here.
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 manufacturing’s 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!