Women in Manufacturing: Top Leaders, History, Resources and More

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
June 23, 2024 at 3:16PM UTC

Women make up less than one-third of the United States manufacturing workforce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is a sharp contrast to the total population of workers in the U.S., nearly half of whom are women.

Manufacturing offers a broad range of occupations, including product design and management, production, quality control inspection, engineering, and more. Despite the opportunities available in the industry, there is a distinct lack of representation of women in manufacturing. Still, women have made some of the greatest inventions and advances in the field.

Read on to learn about some of the top leaders in both the past and present and the impact women have made in manufacturing—and on the world. You will also find resources, organizations, and scholarships for women in manufacturing.

Top Women in Manufacturing

Despite the relatively low proportion of women in the field of manufacturing, there are numerous female leaders rising to the top of the industry. Here are just a few notable women in manufacturing.

• Leah Curry

The president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, Inc. (TMMWV) is responsible for all manufacturing and administrative functions at her plant. Previously, she served as vice president of manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana, where she started her career as a team leader in 1997.

• Paige D. Bowen

Paige Bowen’s father was the president of Seelye Plastics, Seelye, Inc., and she began working in his office during summer breaks and vacations. Today, she serves as the president of Seelye Acquisitions after working her way up from inside sales.

• Kristin Day

Kristin Day’s manufacturing journey started when she interned at an automotive industry in college. Now, she works as Manufacturing Operations Director of Clothes Dryers at Whirlpool Corporation. 

“I really developed the passion based on just the amount of complexity, change, and the fast-paced environment that exists,” Day said in an interview with Glassdoor.

• Elizabeth “Liz” Haggerty

Currently the vice president and general manager of York International Corporation, Liz Haggerty has more than 17 years of engineering, HVAC, and distribution experience. Previously, she served as vice president and general manager of Southern California Sales and Distribution Organization of Carrier Enterprise.

• Victoria “Vicki” Holt

The CEO and president of Proto Labs, Inc. has more than 30 years of experience working in leadership roles in manufacturing, chemical, and materials industries, previously serving as CEO and president of Spartech Plastics, LLC, and Spartech Polycom, LLC. She began her career at Monsanto as a salesperson.

• Natale Menke

Natale Menke fell in love with engineering after observing her father’s work. Today, she is the president of Universal Blower Pac. 

“Being able to design something then see it come to life is what drove me towards this industry,” she said in an interview with Thomas Net.

History of Women in Manufacturing

Women have been making some of the greatest advances in the manufacturing industry for hundreds of years. What follows is a brief history of the careers and inventions of women in the field.

• 1871

Margaret E. Knight, known as “Lady Edison” had her first patent approved for a paper feeding machine that is still used to cut, fold, and bind the same paper bags we use today. She sought to create a safer working environment for everyone after witnessing an injury at a textile mill. This patent was her first of 12. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

• 1908

Madame C.J. Walker founded Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, specializing in developing beauty and hair products for black women. Along with employing thousands of women, Walker promoted women’s independence and was famous for her philanthropy.

• World War II

When American men left to fight in the war, factories used the image of Rosie the Riveter to recruit women to work in manufacturing jobs at factories. Today, she continues to serve as an icon of women’s empowerment.

• 1959

Stephanie Kwolek won a publication award from the American Chemical Society, the first of many awards she would earn, after creating Kevlar, a synthetic fiber used in helmets and other important equipment, while working at DuPont as one of the first female chemists at the chemical company. She was later inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

• 2011

Women in Manufacturing (WiM) was founded by Allison Grealis. The national organization seeks to support women in manufacturing and those interested in the industry. Today, it has more than 1,000 members. Grealis serves as WiM’s president.

Resources and Groups for Women in Manufacturing

STEP Ahead - Women in Manufacturing

In 2012, The Manufacturing Institute launched the STEP (science, technology, engineering, and production) Ahead initiative to highlight the achievements of women in manufacturing, commending them at a national gala. 

Women in Manufacturing®

As the only national trade association that provides women in manufacturing with continual support, WiM has grown significantly since its founding and represents members from nearly 600 manufacturing companies with all manufacturing functions, from production to C-level.

Women in Manufacturing® Summit

WiM holds an annual SUMMIT to bring together members and offer networking and educational experiences.

Scholarships for Women in Manufacturing

Intel’s Diversity Scholar Programs

Seeking to achieve “full representation of women and under-represented minorities within our company by 2020,” Intel partners with nonprofits and universities to offer eight scholarships. 

Lucile B. Kaufman Women's Scholarship Award

This scholarship is awarded to full-time undergraduate students enrolled in a program in manufacturing engineering or manufacturing engineering technology.

Society of Women Engineers

Offering hundreds of scholarships to undergraduate and graduate women, SWE provides financial assistance to women preparing for careers in engineering (including manufacturing engineering), engineering technology, and computer science.

Recruiting Women to Manufacturing

In a report entitled The Women in Manufacturing: Stepping Ahead to Make an Impact, Deloitte, in conjunction with The Manufacturing Institute, details strategies for recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in the field. Some of these methods include promoting careers in manufacturing early, while women are undergraduate college students, and focusing on the potential women have in the industry, as well as providing leadership and mentorship to female professionals and prospective professionals.

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