Historically, women have been significantly underrepresented in the field of manufacturing. Despite women making up nearly 47% of the American workforce today, only 30% of manufacturing positions are held by women (U.S. Department of Commerce). These disparities may be influenced by long-standing misconceptions about manufacturing, perpetuating stereotypes that label manufacturing as “dirty,” “dangerous,” and a “man’s job.” This messaging may inadvertently discourage women from pursuing a career in manufacturing, hindering them from pursuing an otherwise stable, skilled, impactful profession.
To better understand the challenges young women may face entering the field of manufacturing and explore means of supporting them, we met with female manufacturers, female manufacturing educators, and women leading efforts to support other women in manufacturing. These conversations included representatives from the IMA Education Foundation, TMA Manufacturing Education Foundation, Women in Manufacturing, Greater Chicago Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, and Nerdy Girl Success.
In partnership with the IMA Education Foundation, we detailed our findings in a new resource entitled Resources and Guidance for Supporting Young Women in Manufacturing, which specifies how to best support students at every stage on their journey from elementary to and through postsecondary, with a focus on shifting how we speak about and engage women in manufacturing experiences.
Key Points for Supporting Young Women in Manufacturing
Connect Young Women With Women in Manufacturing
Young women need to see themselves working in manufacturing. Connecting young women to female professionals in manufacturing may help them recognize manufacturing as a possibility for themselves and break any internal stigma about their sense of belonging in the field.
Whenever possible, connect students to female representatives and mentors. If you are bringing a manufacturer to your school organization, ask that it be a woman. If you are taking your students to a manufacturing organization, ask for a female tour guide. Find female instructors, have females mentor work-based learning experiences, etc. If a young woman has the opportunity to have a manufacturing mentor, do your best to connect her with a woman in the field.
When you cannot directly connect your students with women in manufacturing, encourage them to engage with stories of women in manufacturing. Share resources like Steel Toes and Stilettos or articles highlighting women in manufacturing. If your students like podcasts, consider sharing Women in Manufacturing’s Hear Her Story podcast or Mavens of Manufacturing. For more examples of female-centered manufacturing media, see page 7.
Make Learning Hands-on
Students interested in manufacturing tend to be tactile learners, requiring active engagement to comprehend a concept or explore career and postsecondary opportunities. Hands-on activities may keep students connected and excited about the key skills needed for success in manufacturing while helping them develop essential employability and technical competencies within the field. Additionally, this may help young women reconsider any assumptions about manufacturing being a “dangerous” job. Giving young women hands-on experiences in a safe environment shows them their capability and empowers them with the confidence that they can be manufacturers. To read more about hands-on activities, see page 8.
Help Students Reflect on Their Thoughts About and Experiences With Manufacturing
After every experience that a young woman in manufacturing has, encourage her to reflect on her experience in the space and check back in if the student has lingering thoughts. If a student has questions they would like addressed, do your best to respond and connect them to other resources, such as a woman in manufacturing. If a student is interested in continuing along a manufacturing pathway, help connect them to further opportunities, such as local manufacturing plants that offer apprenticeships or other career development opportunities. To help young women consider their experiences in manufacturing, we designed a template of reflection questions on page 10.
Remind Young Women That They Are Needed in the Field of Manufacturing
Remind young women of their value in the field. It’s important to note that supporting young women to pursue this field not only empowers them but also uplifts the entirety of the field. Young women are often not represented in manufacturing, and investing in them brings new perspectives and novel approaches to efficiency, community, and improvement in the workplace.
Manufacturing is projected to be the fastest-growing occupation in Illinois, and this growth is met with a large number of unfilled positions (IMA Manufacturing Matters 2022). In 2022, the Illinois Manufacturing Association (IMA) and EdSystems partnered to launch Scaling Transformative Advanced Manufacturing Pathways (STAMP) to help meet the demand for skilled manufacturing workers in Illinois while advancing equity. In an effort to increase secondary enrollment in manufacturing pathways by underrepresented students, we set our focus on supporting young women who do not often see themselves in a career in manufacturing.
Encouraging education and mentorship programs that target young women can help build a pipeline of skilled female professionals in manufacturing, ensuring a brighter and more inclusive future for the industry. For more information on how to engage and support young women to participate in manufacturing-related experiences, see Resources and Guidance for Supporting Young Women in Manufacturing.