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Challenges facing women in manufacturing

  • 1.  Challenges facing women in manufacturing

    Posted 07-20-2018 09:41
    Manufacturing companies need an approach to retain women in the workplace. I know many individuals would like to showcase the industry's work culture where women can thrive. It would be helpful to know, what is the biggest challenge women in manufacturing feel?  Do they feel held back?  Do they feel misunderstood? 

    Meg Smith
    VT Women's Fund

  • 2.  RE: Challenges facing women in manufacturing

    Posted 07-23-2018 07:00
    ​Good Morning!
       I know a lot of my responses have been in a different direction, but I will have to say that most women in the manufacturing that I have experienced struggle with the "mother" component. We have had lots of discussion about breastfeeding, maternity leave, daycare, and so forth. As part of leadership in my organization we have talked about initiatives for daycare. I know when I started back in 2010 I didn't know anyone in this state so I had to just find someone to watch my kids until I saved up enough money to look at facilities (affordable). I average $20,000 a year in daycare (at this moment). That's not including school lunches, and all other needs for the children. I know we focus a lot on wanting to be able to flourish at work to make the "big bucks" to provide for our families, but during the time that we are working our way up these expenses are not going anywhere. They are still there everyday. This weighs on the mother when they see they miss time with their children (plus they don't feel appreciated at work) then they start to question if the career is worth it. I speak to numerous women who are interested in working but are torn between staying at home with the kids (if they have the option). I didn't always have the option to stay at home but when I was asked to clock out to pump my milk at work it was a moment I started to question my path. I came to terms with it my fifth child by saying that the baby would be okay not exclusively drinking breast milk. So I didn't pump at work. I paid too much in daycare to loose any time on my check. I will say I realized that those moments were not forever so I am not bitter by them. Just because those are in my past doesn't mean I don't realize they are in the future of other mothers. I have met with two recently who have had to go through the same situation. I am curious to see other's opinions of the challenges we face and what some other companies may be doing to alleviated burdens for the working parents.

    Kelli Gilliam
    Apprentice Craft Instructor/Welding Foreman
    Huntington Ingalls Industries

  • 3.  RE: Challenges facing women in manufacturing

    Posted 07-24-2018 15:46
    Yes, motherhood is a huge barrier for my students & graduates. Who will watch their children when they are on night shift? If they aren't married (and often even if they are), they're at a loss for childcare. Most childcare in my area operate 7:30am - 6:00pm. That's not really in line with manufacturing hours.

    Also, pregnancy. Will they have maternity leave? Will they be able to work while pregnant? What if they need bed rest or even just a chair? What about breastfeeding and pumping?

    Another barrier is the workplace culture. Are men (or other women) allowed to harass under the guise of "joking"? Will they lose their job if a man is showing interest in them? Do they have to worry about violence? It's not just about the BIG scary harassment, but little things. Are they going to be trained on all the machines, or will a CNC programmer be allowed to say, "I'm not teaching this to a woman?" Is their boss going to look at their lunch and recommend they eat a salad instead? These are all things that have happened to my students.

    Melinda Perron
    [email protected]

  • 4.  RE: Challenges facing women in manufacturing

    Posted 07-25-2018 10:53
    ​In response to Melinda Perron's post: I would agree with the culture change. I can say at my company I have not been held back by my gender and I have heard lots of men say that they wanted a female craftsmen back to their crew because she did better than the guys. I have to say I am "spoiled" because of the culture that is being exemplified here. In the same breath, I am a welding foreman and I have had another hourly female craftsmen not like the answer I gave them about a job so they proceeded to ask if they could speak with a "real foreman". I explained that I was a foreman and had been for a few years and their tone changed. I have had the privilege of working with women who have been here for 30-40 years and they could tell you some stories about the "back in the day". They would tell you things have changed a lot! I see the joking and harassment from both gender's but its been worse from other women for me. When I get to talk about my company and opportunities I do get to honestly talk about a very good culture. I hate to see other companies not being there yet. I feel like this is something you can't put a gender on. It seems more like a "heart issue". If we all are compassionate, engaged, and treating others at the same standard we would like to be treated, then the culture is automatically changed. I do have these very real conversations with anyone interested in working here or anywhere for that matter.

    In response to Breanna Cornell's post: After my fifth child, I had been without a period three years due to pregnancy and breastfeeding, and when the first period hit me I almost fainted in my shop. I was on the shop floor checking on my welders and it got dark but my eyes were wide open. I walked quickly to my bosses trailer and said I have to leave. I quickly explained and he offered to drive me or call an ambulance if I needed. I declined and just made it to the car as quickly as I could (out of pride). This boss was also one that didn't know how to act when I cried during my pregnancy. Sometimes it doesn't matter what is happening, the hormones rage and you cry. He wasn't so good in communicating his uneasiness with it but nonetheless he ended up also being the one most concerned for my health if I honestly let him know when I wasn't feeling well. He also met with me when I was accepting a new position because he really wanted to see how to keep me. HR was the issue when it came to clocking out to "pump" breastmilk. My boss and his boss told me to file a grievance because they didn't agree and wanted to see if that would help change the policy. We have to know as women that these are businesses. If I was running a business I would have compassion for my employees and I would also have to be smart or I could end up having to close my doors. Just like in our homes we know what we can afford and can not afford. There are policies in place that happened before more women came to the workplace. It doesn't mean they can't change. Each situation is different. I try to be smart about picking my battles so that I am being fair and well balanced, not all about me, me, me. I did end up getting a procedure to help with my period because I was taking a new job that would have me up on staging frequently and I didn't want to black out and fall off the units. This was a personal decision I had to make and my company couldn't have change everything just to accommodate me.

    I hope this doesn't come across complainy. I only give example of my experiences because if I only give a response then no one understands how I got to that understanding/opinion.

    Kelli Gilliam
    Apprentice Craft Instructor/Welding Foreman
    Huntington Ingalls Industries

  • 5.  RE: Challenges facing women in manufacturing

    Posted 07-24-2018 12:09
    ​I share an office with 3 men all at least 15 years older than I. It's a 15'x15' room centered on the manufacturing floor. The bathroom is a 3 minute walk past 5 of the machines I have ownership over. Before I found the right treatment for the severe pain my menstrual cycle brought, I really really struggled with it. Being hunched over in pain at my desk, the "long" walk to the bathroom when it felt like it was an emergency (where I was usually stopped by operators), and feeling like I couldn't talk about it or use sick days (because I honestly could use all my sick days on this in the first 3 months of the year). The *most* help I got, when I went to HR in tears from pain and frustration one day, was that I could lay down in HR's office for a little while when I needed it. They didn't understand that it wasn't a pain that just passes. I felt like I couldn't ask to work from home on these days to avoid using sick days, although it would've been nice to be in the comfort of my own bathroom. I wish this topic didn't have such a stigma around it in manufacturing, and it's ironic because I work for a hygiene company that manufactures women's hygiene products (although not at our facility). It feels silly because I'm not "sick", and it feels like there's a mentality of "just suck it up". It's been fine since I found the right treatment, but it took me a solid year and a half until I found it.

    Breanna Cornell
    Process Engineer

  • 6.  RE: Challenges facing women in manufacturing

    Posted 07-25-2018 11:26

    I have been in manufacturing now for nearly 24 years after serving 11 years active duty in the U.S. Army.  Having worked in male dominated career fields it has been very rare for me to have female direct reports.  I have not in practice tried to isolate women due to unique challenges because we live in a modern society now so we can't really say that only women care for children or that only women may be single parents raising children on their own. I have tried to look at each issue/challenge and neutralize it from being a gender specific problem because I think there is a danger in creating a perception that hiring and retaining women creates additional "demands" on the company.  For example, I did have a female employee with an ongoing medical issue (severe menstrual cramps due to endometriosis) and we were able to accommodate her by having her apply for intermittent FMLA.  This would be no different than a male who suffers from a chronic medical issue (back or fibromyalgia, etc).  In the instances where I have personally been confronted with issues based on my gender I have always overcome them by using objective logic and focusing attention on the work at hand or my ability to produce results rather than allow the situation to erode into emotion.  In my opinion, child care is not a women's issue, it is a parental guardian issue that transcends gender; we have grandparents raising children now, single parents, dual working parents, etc.  I think it is definitely advantageous for on-site child care but it is not a common benefit among companies across the board, not just manufacturing.  There are many career fields that work shifts and odd hours; while manufacturing has some work to do to update our image, we are certainly not the only career field that faces these challenges.  I think it would be interesting to benchmark these other career fields (fire fighters, medical profession, first responders, air traffic controllers, etc) to determine how they are meeting these challenges to recruit and maintain an diverse workforce. 


    Diane Wilhelm

    Chief Engineer Advanced Manufacturing

    You cannot always choose your circumstances, but you can always choose your attitude!


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