The Manufacturing Institute's STEP Women’s Initiative: Inspiring women in manufacturing

Friday, November 8, 2019 9:38 pm EST


AJ Jorgenson, Vice President, Stategic Engagement, The Manufacturing Institute

Today, women account for less than a third of manufacturing employees, despite representing almost half of all workers. In fact, women represent the largest pools of untapped talent for manufacturers. Thus, closing manufacturing’s gender gap is key to closing the skills gap, too.

Notably, manufacturing set the stage for a decades-long march of women into the U.S. workforce. Women in previous generations who took on manufacturing roles showed the country what they could do in such roles. The manufacturing industry now has the responsibility to inspire the next generation of young women and girls to dream of what they, too, can do in manufacturing.

The STEP Women’s Initiative is dedicated to fostering a 21st Century manufacturing workforce that gives women the recognition and support they deserve. We know that the Manufacturing Institute's STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Women’s Initiative, including the STEP Ahead Awards, has made a difference. In just five years, STEP Ahead Award winners have impacted more than 300,000 individuals, from peers in the industry to school-age children, from mentoring to hosting school field trips to  launching employee resource groups. By honoring current and existing leaders we are building and elevating the role models that can inspire the next generation while building networks for women to have support in their industry.    

I spoke to one such inspiring individual, Mutsa Chinoda Kemp, Project Manager at Siemens Energy, and 2019 STEP Ahead Award winner (pictured). I wanted to learn how she found her place in manufacturing, and how we can inspire women to do the same.

Tell me about your start in manufacturing. Did you have a career path in mind when you first began in that role?

I am first-generation American, so finding a job was considered an opportunity that others in my family may not have had. My first position was in a manufacturing facility and I fell in love with manufacturing, so I have stayed. With my educational background and 15 years of experience, and the drive and support to stay in manufacturing, I’ve found a path forward to follow, and I’m grateful for that.

What has your experience been working in a predominantly male environment?

In college, there were few women in my advanced STEM classes, so being in the minority is not a new experience to me, unfortunately.  I have also dealt with sexism in the workplace—men who have blatantly ignored me, talked over, and looked past me in meetings as if I were not there. With those colleagues, I have gone out of my way to get to know them and build a rapport outside of those meetings. Over time, they began to see me as a contributor, and we are able to move forward. 

I have also found many colleagues who want me to succeed.  This is clear because their interactions proved that I am a valuable member of the team. 

I have learned to accept both environments and choose to do what I can to improve the experience for the next generation of women. 

What can companies do to help address the challenge of bringing more women into the manufacturing talent pipeline?

One challenge I have faced is being told I could not move into a leadership role in manufacturing without being a supervisor first.  While I understand the importance of a supervisory role, we need those roles to be flexible to allow for work-life balance. Many shifts start at 7 or 8 a.m., when children are getting ready for or heading to school, and end at 4 or 5 p.m. when many children are getting home. There are ways to be more creative about that. So, I ask, what innovative approaches  are manufacturing companies willing to explore to get women into and keep them in their talent pipeline?  

What are you doing today to improve your own work-life balance?

I am a wife and mother of a 2nd grader and a 3rd grader, so I do not have much of a balance, but I manage my work and home lives successfully.  It is no secret that a balancing act does need to take place because there are times when work needs more attention than my home life does and vice versa.

One trick is I have is to coordinate afterschool activities with my own activities to maximize my time. For example, on Tuesdays, I drop off my daughter at dance and take my son to Cub Scouts at a facility where I can get into a gym to run. On Wednesdays, I drop off my daughter at our church where she completes her homework. I take my son to piano lessons and then return to church for bible study.  I am proud to say we are home together after school and work three out of the five weeknights. 

How can we create more awareness in our communities about the different career opportunities in manufacturing?

“Show and tell” sessions are powerful, including stations that focus on  manufacturing careers hands-on activities to teach manufacturing concepts and process improvements. One opportunity I would like to see more of is an open house for the community. Exposure is the best way to get people interested in a field which they may have preconceived notions about or little knowledge of.

How important is it to you to have women in leadership roles?

It goes back to the saying, “If I can see it, then I can be it.” Seeing women who have moved into leadership is inspiring and encouraging. Although we are all different, we are women and most of us face the same challenges in our careers in male-dominated industries.  Knowing that I can bring my whole self to work and that what I bring will be embraced and valued to the point of moving into leadership is motivating. 

I often ask myself, “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” I believe knowing that people want you to succeed and will support you to ensure you are successful plays a huge role when it comes to considering a leadership role.  


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