How Women Can Make Their Mark in Manufacturing

Women have a tough time breaking into the manufacturing industry. Despite making up nearly half of the U.S. labor force in 2016, women accounted for just 29 percent of manufacturing workers.

There’s no way around it — women have a tough time breaking into the manufacturing industry. Despite making up nearly half of the U.S. labor force in 2016, women accounted for just 29 percent of manufacturing workers. And for those who find a place within the industry, yet another challenge often emerges — climbing up the corporate ladder.

From self-doubt to a lack of respect on the part of male co-workers, numerous issues keep executive positions out of reach for women. Moving into the C-suite, however, isn’t out of the question. The following advice — much of which I learned through my experience as an executive in male-dominated industries — can help fast-track your manufacturing career.

Dig into the Nitty Gritty

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time in manufacturing, it’s that credibility carries plenty of weight. Wondering how to earn the trust of your male counterparts? Get ready to roll up your sleeves and dig into every last task — regardless of how small it may be.

Before settling upon a decision, I always do my best to understand the challenges and opportunities involved. After all, if I’m not familiar with what goes into a specific process, it’s difficult to determine how I can improve it. And as I become more knowledgeable about an issue, chances are my follow-up questions will become more relevant and help move the team closer to the right solution.

Instead of struggling to gather all the facts and ultimately making an uninformed decision, lean on the expertise of those around you. Being open and honest about where you may need a little extra information can help you avoid a misstep down the line.

Own Up to Your Mistakes

No matter the industry or profession, mistakes come with the territory. Set your pride aside and abandon a faulty plan before it inflicts even more damage on your organization’s bottom line. While it may be hard to take the blame for a poor decision, showing the courage to change course will help you earn the respect of colleagues.

All too often, professionals hurt their careers or opportunities for growth by pushing ahead with a plan that may not be effective. Use occasional checkpoints or process benchmarks to keep track of progress. If the results aren’t rolling in, it might be a good idea to reevaluate your strategy. Meet with other people at your organization to figure out how you can right the ship. Fostering a dialogue about what went wrong is the first step to moving past a mistake and starting on the path toward success.

Keep a Positive Attitude

With tight production deadlines and difficult supplier relationships, it can be easy to let stress get to you during the work week. But even as tasks begin to pile up, it’s important to keep some perspective. An old mentor of mine always liked to remind me that manufacturing isn’t an industry where life and death constantly hangs in the balance — meaning we don’t have to go to work everyday with the same mindset as a paramedic or surgeon.

Is it crucial to meet client demands? You bet. At the same time, however, try to maintain a positive attitude, especially when things go haywire. Although it may be tempting to complain or get stressed, doing so yields few results. Meanwhile, becoming overly emotional can hinder your ability to make a sound, logical decision. Give yourself a moment before taking any action. Something as simple as a walk around the block or a breathing exercise can go a long way toward clearing your mind and resetting priorities.

Take Time to Listen

To prove your value within an organization, it’s essential to come prepared to share your thoughts during meetings. But that doesn’t mean you should spend every last second speaking. In fact, most of the meeting should involve listening to the thoughts and concerns of others in the room.

While you may be responsible for choosing the most appropriate course of action, it will be tough to do just that without a good idea of what’s going on. Whether you’re entering a new industry or taking on a new job, it’s important to develop a deep understanding of your organization’s most pressing problems. The best way to do this is by making sure to give the company’s most experienced workers an opportunity to share their two cents.

In addition to improving your ability to make sound decisions, taking time to listen will help you win the approval of others in the organization. Time and time again, new executives look to change things in a company without consulting those who are already there. Giving a voice to your colleagues can help build trust and increase your awareness.

Women have long been overlooked or completely left out of the manufacturing industry. Although an uphill battle still remains, plenty of progress is being made. Not only are more women making their way into the industry, but their presence in the C-level also continues to grow. To follow in the footsteps of those who have paved the way for greater inclusion, dive into the details of each process, be accountable for your mistakes, stay level-headed and listen to those around you.

Ginger Butz is a business segment manager at Morey, focusing on growth and operations. With more than 20 years of product management experience, Ginger's goal is productivity, and she analyzes manufacturing processes to find areas for improvement. Ginger is Six Sigma Green Belt certified and earned her bachelor's degree and MBA from Benedictine University.

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