When Sophia Dutton answers the question “What is the biggest misconception about manufacturing?” she responds with equal parts sass and sincerity, saying,
“The largest misconception about manufacturing is that it’s a man’s world, oh and it can be, for sure!”
Sophia, the young and energetic employee at Tempur Pedic in Duffield, Virginia, sits behind a conference table, wearing a polo shirt emblazoned with the logo of her employer. She goes on to talk about how she believes that women are the force driving a lot of the behind the scenes work in Tempur Pedic’s factory, where they manufacture pillows and mattresses. Dutton, who works on the pillow assembly, in reception and is currently cross-training in IT, is an example of the new image of manufacturing around the region and the country; an image where women are not only the force behind the scenes, but are also coming into the spotlight and being recognized for the work that they’ve been doing for decades.
We all know the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter, the patriotic symbolism of American women stepping up to the plate during World War II, while the majority of American men were away fighting. One fact that is often overlooked is that many women never left manufacturing after the war, and even if they did, later generations of women have returned to the assembly lines and made manufacturing their careers. A lot has changed since World War II. You’ll see more women in stylish polo shirts on the line rather than red bandannas, and just as fashions have evolved, so too has the technology that manufacturers use to get the job done. Today’s factories are equipped with cutting-edge computers that operate high-tech equipment and micro-technologies that take precision to a new level. Increasingly, women are the ones behind the keyboard.
While it’s still true that men dominate the manufacturing field in sheer numbers (women make up 27% of the manufacturing workforce), these numbers aren’t necessarily the case across the board. Even here in Southwest Virginia, we have manufacturers whose workforce is primarily made up of women. Scholle packaging, in Chilhowie, Virginia, is made up of almost equal parts women and men, with far more women than men working the day shift. More and more women are coming to manufacturing, and initially they may be unsure of what they want out of their career. But then, something interesting happens. They stay for the pay, benefits and internal mobility that are hallmarks of the manufacturing industry. Two-thirds of women working in manufacturing say that if beginning their careers again, they would choose manufacturing as their career path.
Women have been working in manufacturing for over a century, and the number of women in the field only continues to rise, but it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. We still have work to do, and a lot of that work is on the image of manufacturing. That’s right; manufacturing needs a PR makeover STAT, so that we can get more qualified women in the doors of HR departments and into the jobs where employers desperately need workers. There are approximately 600,000 manufacturing jobs unfilled right now in the United States. Unfortunately, perception effects pursuit, and according to The Manufacturing Institute, the perception that manufacturing is a male-dominated field is the primary reason women aren’t interested in pursuing a career in the industry. If more women are given insight into this field, and introduced or re-introduced to manufacturing-the manufacturing of technology and thinking rather than sweating and toiling, then we’ll be well on our way to filling the job gap with skilled women.
To do our part in being a leader of change and representing the hardworking women in manufacturing, SVAM is releasing a video series Women in Manufacturing, leading up to our announcement of the 2016 Outstanding Woman in Manufacturing Award. The video series features women from around the region, all of whom hold different positions in manufacturing. After seeing the video series, we hope that women around the region will be inspired by the opportunities available within the walls of the manufacturers in Southwest Virginia, and that the larger public will see the key role that women play in the companies located in their communities. Part One of the video series is below:
Forbes. The Coming Rise of Women in Manufacturing. http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeswomanfiles/2013/09/20/the-rise-of-women-in-manufacturing/#2715e4857a0b2cec5dce9352
Delliote; The Manufacturing Institute; APICS. Women in Manufacturing Study: Exploring the Gender Gap. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/manufacturing/us-mfg-women-in-manufacturing-2015-study.pdf