I have been in the manufacturing environment to some extent throughout my 30-year career. Thinking back on what inspired me to go in that direction, or what hesitations I might have had at the time, has required some retrospection.
When I was growing up, my father was a quality manager in manufacturing. I had the opportunity to work at his company in the summers during college. My perceptions weren’t all favorable, but I did feel it was a place where people were proud of what they were doing and were working together to make a product that was an important contribution to our society.
We were making machines for underground coal mining, and it was fascinating to me to see the coordination throughout the supply chain, from receiving parts to the final shipment of a machine out the door. I pursued engineering in college, and my desire was to start my career in manufacturing. I actually wanted a job where I would get my hands dirty working on a manufacturing shop floor. For me, it’s the reality of seeing the product that I made.
I found that women were scarce in the role of plant engineer, and there were obstacles I had to overcome. I looked for positive female role models and found many through the Society of Women Engineers. Overcoming the obstacles made me stronger and provided a sense of accomplishment.
My job has evolved significantly over the years. I no longer work directly on the shop floor, though I interact with manufacturing all of the time. Many of the skills I need and use most frequently were learned on the job, and I’m grateful I have the foundation of manufacturing experience for the opportunities I’ve had.
Last year, I was honored to receive a Women in Manufacturing STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Award, presented by the Manufacturing Institute. One thing that stood out was the diversity of experiences and positions of the other 160 award recipients. These women came from all levels and operations within manufacturing, from the shop floor to the C-suite. I think that’s a testament to the misnomer that manufacturing jobs are in dark and dirty environments. I think what these women have in common is the drive and determination to make a difference.
What’s clear is that manufacturing opportunities for women have improved significantly, and women are valued contributors to a diverse workforce.
I am passionate about the need to encourage young women to pursue education in science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing (STEM). We should encourage their interest in science and math. My call is to women in manufacturing to be positive role models and advocates for our profession.
We need to attract women who are considering careers in manufacturing, and encourage our male counterparts to cultivate a diverse manufacturing environment that attracts women.
We all need to drive a culture for change by encouraging young people to pursue education in STEM fields so they have the skills needed for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.
To change perceptions of the manufacturing industry, and create new opportunities for women in the sector, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Production (STEP) Ahead Initiative was established by the Manufacturing Institute, Deloitte, University of Phoenix, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Kennametal STEP Award Winners Include: Colleen Cordova, Martina Igel, and Helen Patricia. From Chem Lab to Corporate Office our VP of Marketing-Industrial, Colleen Cordova, has a story of her own to tell — catch it here.