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2017-08-18 / Front Page

Women in manufacturing on the rise

Diversity helps bring industry into new era

Ashleigh Walters, president of Onex, Inc., believes the way to recruit more females to the industry is to have more women in prominent positions. 
Photo courtesy of Fred Olds Ashleigh Walters, president of Onex, Inc., believes the way to recruit more females to the industry is to have more women in prominent positions. Photo courtesy of Fred Olds The past decades of deindustrialization and resulting layoffs in America have left the manufacturing industry with a potential workforce that is hesitant to enter into what they have been taught is rough work with an uncertain paycheck.

This hesitance to join the manufacturing industry has been dubbed the “mill mentality” and stems from multiple cultural and economic sources, including parents telling their children that not only was the local big manufacturer a bad place to work, but it has since closed down.

Women in Business interviewed members of Women in Manufacturing, a national organization with over 700 members, to find out if a more diverse workforce is the key to re- energizing interest in the industry and how women can be drawn into manufacturing. All three members are presidents of Pennsylvania-based manufacturing companies.

Melissa Monarko, president of Metal Solutions Inc., believes diversity leads to more loyal employees and allows for new forms of problem solving. 
Photo coutesy of Metal Solutions Inc. Melissa Monarko, president of Metal Solutions Inc., believes diversity leads to more loyal employees and allows for new forms of problem solving. Photo coutesy of Metal Solutions Inc. WiB: Where are you from originally and what has your career been leading up to your current position?

Ashleigh Walters: I was born and raised in East Tennessee. When I was in high school, my parents identified that I was very interested in science and math so they encouraged me to apply to engineering school. I chose Auburn University’s chemical engineering program with a focus in Pulp and Paper. I interned with International Paper and Bowater Southern. Upon graduation, I took a job as a process safety engineer with Southern Company’s nuclear power station in Augusta, Georgia. A couple years later, I joined Onex, Inc. in a pulp and paper sales position covering the southeast. I have advanced my career through Onex and am now the president of the company living and working in Erie, Pennsylvania. I am responsible for day-to-day operations. Vice-presidents and managers for various departments report to me. I align all facets of the business - finance, human resources, procurement, marketing, sales and operations - to ensure that we meet the strategic goals of the company.

Melissa Monarko: I am from the Pittsburg region. Currently I am president of Metal Solutions Inc. – a small machine and fabrication shop in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. I graduated from Allegheny College in 2008 with a degree in international studies and Spanish. Out of school, I went on to work for a steel manufacturer, Allegheny Technologies (ATI), for six years in international inside sales and then marketing. In June 2014, I made the tough decision to leave ATI to help my father grow Metal Solutions. I finished my MBA at Duquesne University in 2015. At Metal Solutions I have worn many hats – sales, purchasing, account management, AP/ AR, human resources etc. I then took over majority ownership in March 2017, and I am currently serving as president of the company.

Kory Kiczan: I am from the Pittsburgh area. Prior to starting Filly Fabricating I was a manager for Enterprise and a few other retailers. I grew up watching my dad start his own manufacturing company and decided I wanted to follow in his footsteps and start my own company in the same industry. I was able to gain knowledge over the years as I watched his business evolve. Right before I started Filly Fabricating I did an internship there.

WiB: Do you see manufacturers on the local level working to close the pay gap?

Walters: I have personally never experienced the pay gap. My experience has been that manufacturers have offered more to women in engineering positions than to their male counterparts in order to try to entice women to enter the industry.

Kiczan: In addressing the gender/ pay gap, from a personal as well as a direct-hire standpoint, gender is not a determining factor for my company. Recent years reflect a slow, but steady addressing of this issue as well as a decrease in the levels of discrimination, but we have some ways to go in the manufacturing realm. In addition, we also see an increase in the number of female candidates being submitted and considered for potential employment with those temporary employment agencies we work with. This is obviously a step in the right direction and encouraging news for those qualified women or even those who are eager to learn a skill seeking employment

WiB: Manufacturers come in a variety of sizes, but almost all of them started small. Do you believe encouraging female entrepreneurship goes hand in hand with reaching gender parity in manufacturing?

Walters: I believe that the way to recruit more females to the industry is to have females within companies in prominent positions. Young girls need to be introduced to the industry and know that it is an option as a career. They also need to have encouragement from parents and educators to pursue STEM education. Once in the industry, they need to have mentors to help keep them challenged and engaged.

Monarko: Yes, I am living this right now as a woman entrepreneur of a small manufacturing business. If you are willing to put in the work, and have patience coupled with passion, I believe it will pay off in the long run. I believe that successful women entrepreneurs in manufacturing would encourage other women to enter the manufacturing field, and thus help reach gender parity in this industry.

WiB: The manufacturing sector has had some trouble within the last decade of making itself attractive to the labor pool as parents encourage their children into other industries. How important do you think encouraging diversity is to overcoming the “mill mentality”?

Walters: The Manufacturing Institute states that the public perception of manufacturing is that manufacturing is dark, dirty and dangerous. Manufacturers must raise awareness of the opportunities available by supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in schools, offering internships/apprenticeships and advocating for the importance of manufacturing through the use of plant tours.

In April, I surveyed Onex staff and found that 85 percent of those who were familiar with manufacturing were likely to recommend it as a career to the next generation and that their perception was not that manufacturing was dirty.

Monarko: It needs to be understood that manufacturing no longer means the “good old boys club.” Women have a place in manufacturing and can offer great benefits. Women bring innovation, organization, leadership, critical thinking and higher education.

Kiczan: This is something schools need to address at the junior high/ intermediate high school level. There is real potential in developing partnerships on a co-op basis, between schools, companies and the community. Too often we see kids coming out of college who cannot find a job in the field they have received their diploma. There are just no guarantees and most companies want some experience. When they are in senior high school, having available courses that involve mechanical and electrical engineering would/could be so beneficial and offered to both genders. It affords them the opportunity to learn a valuable skill that could assist them in securing work.

WiB: Do diverse manufacturing companies out-compete those that lack diversity? What are some of the benefits of a diverse workplace?

Walters: The Manufacturing Institute did a study that proved women bring a team closer together and the team then outperforms other men-only teams. Diversity brings different thought processes which leads to more innovative ideas.

Monarko: Absolutely. Different perspectives and unique skills can mean different ways of solving a problem or implementing a strategy. Diversity also means inclusion, which I believe leads to more loyalty to a job and company.

Kiczan: I believe there’s a huge benefit to having a diverse company because there’s a wide variety of jobs in manufacturing that require different skill sets. We see that women have specific skills that are very different from males and sometimes certain jobs require those different skills.

WiB: According to a report from the Manufacturing Institute, 77 percent of women in manufacturing believe that there are tougher standards of performance for women. Do you believe that implicit biases have made the industry a harsh environment for women and what step can be taken to overcome this?

Walters: The Auburn Creed begins “I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.” Life is not fair. If there are tougher standards, then view it as a challenge and overcome it with hard work.

Monarko: Manufacturing has always been a male-dominated field, so I believe this creates a bias that women have higher standards to meet in this industry. Key to overcoming this bias is awareness: education in schools, at home, women ambassadors, organizations like WiM (women in manufacturing), and manufacturing companies promoting women into leadership roles.

WiB: Studies show that people who have already worked in the industry find manufacturing rewarding. How can that message be amplified?

Walters: Manufacturers should increase their social presence. The entire manufacturing sector will become more present in modern media and the minds of young people. A sense of excitement about manufacturing will lead to a more balanced ratio of men to women.

Monarko: I started my career at a steel manufacturer in 2008, and have been working in manufacturing ever since. I do not see myself working in any other industry. Manufacturing touches almost every part of your daily routine and I personally find that fascinating.

Kiczan: When you work in manufacturing you most likely can say you worked on producing something that contributed to the way we live today. For example, my company builds parts for subways so when I’m in a city that has a subway that we built a part for, there’s great pride in that. I think that’s why manufacturing employees find it rewarding. When you are able to see your end-product and your end- user is satisfied with the quality of your product and continues to award their business to you, and even recommend you to others, there’s tremendous pride that can be taken and employees can and should share in that. Not all manufacturers truly listen to their customer(s) or their employees and/ or are more concerned with quantity vs. quality. What they miss is the opportunity to forge a partnership, so providing them with a high level of service as well as product that meets or exceeds their satisfaction is critical to keep that going and keeps your employees employed and happy. .

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