Today, Sentry Equipment employs thirty-four female employee-owners, with six in manager roles. Some of these women recently discussed how they got started in manufacturing and what their experience in the traditionally male industry has been so far. Their stories lead to four points for why manufacturing is a great career choice for women.
Why choose a manufacturing career?
According to the Census Bureau, women make up 47.5% of the overall workforce but only 29% are in manufacturing – a percentage that hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.
Yet, research shows that gender diversity benefits a manufacturing firm through improved ability to innovate, higher return on equity and increased profitability.
So how can we encourage more women to get into manufacturing? By taking a proactive approach in discussing why the manufacturing industry is a vibrant, compelling career choice for women for four reasons:
1. You Get to See the Big Picture
The women on the panel all agreed that being in the manufacturing industry helped them see how small parts fit together to make up the bigger picture. This perspective is what keeps their careers and the modern world run smoothly.
“I get a sense of pride in knowing that manufacturing is dedicated to really making the world tick,” said Krista Drager, Sentry Equipment’s Marketing Manager.
Karen Jones, now a Commercial Operations Manager, agreed. “I like being part of making things happen.”
2. Mentors in Manufacturing Make the Difference
Heidi Balestrieri, Engineering Operations Manager, said she’s had many mentors throughout the years, including her dad and a female engineering manager at a previous company.
This manager attended a meeting in Saudi Arabia, where she had to handle cultural stigma around gender. Although customers on the trip wouldn’t address her, she persevered. “As an engineer and an engineering manager, I am inspired by her,” remarked Heidi.
These dedicated mentors also exist internally. According to Savannah Henning, Benefits and HR Generalist, Sherri McDermott, continues to be a mentor for her. “She seamlessly pulls off leading alongside high-level men. She's a strong example of what women should be in manufacturing.”
For Krista, two of her strongest mentors were also female leaders in manufacturing, including a prominent figure in the industry. “Seeing how she carried herself alongside male leaders at Fortune 500 companies was really eye-opening to me,” she said, "That was when I realized that, despite there not being a large amount of women in manufacturing leadership roles, I could still do it if I wanted to."
3. You Get to Handle the Grit with Grace
“Manufacturing takes somebody that wants the grit and a little chaos,” mentioned Karen.
Megan Patterson, a Production Planner, agreed. “The only way to increase your success zone is by increasing your comfort zone. And the only way to increase your comfort zone is by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Every day we should be trying to put ourselves in these situations so we can increase that success zone,” she said.
Amanda Slowik, a Materials Controller, experienced this at a previous employer, where she was the only woman in the warehouse and got the opportunity to build parts on the manufacturing floor.
“Just the fact that they gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons and learn was one of the best experiences,” she recalled.
4. Work/Life Balance is Possible
Many women on the panel said the manufacturing industry is surprisingly flexible for employees balancing the twin demands of family and work.
“I think this is a great industry to have that kind of flexibility in your life and in your career,” said Lipi Hurtado, the Operations Manager for Sentry Equipment’s Houston facility.
Having started her career in the world of hospitality management, Megan confirmed. By working in manufacturing, she now has a better work/life balance that lets her spend quality time with her daughter.
What's Stopping Women From Starting Their Manufacturing Careers?
The panel agreed that one of the biggest barriers to women being in manufacturing careers is exposure from an early age. To help combat this, Sentry Equipment routinely reaches out to schools and younger people to help break the stigma of women in manufacturing. “There is definitely a place for women to be successful in any position,” said Savannah.
Recently, Heidi and three other female engineers helped a Girl Scout Troop engineer miniature zip line carriers and discussed their careers.
“One little girl raised her hand and said, ‘Can boys be engineers too?’” Heidi recalled. “That was the best feeling ever.”
It is these kinds of experiences that expose girls to manufacturing and engineering careers that will challenge them at every phase of their lives.
Overall, this group agreed that taking chances and giving Manufacturing a try was the best thing that happened to them. But Karen sums it up best, “What bad thing's going to happen? Try it.”