It’s no secret that Ohio is leading a profound turnaround in the nation’s manufacturing sector, and local trade and civic organizations, such as JobsOhio and MAGNET, are playing a significant role. But there is one organization that is leading the way when it comes to advocating for women in nontraditional manufacturing roles.
Cleveland-based Women in Manufacturing Association (WiM) has close to 13,000 individual members representing more than 2,000 manufacturing companies in 48 states and 40 countries. WiM has grown into a global trade association that’s dedicated to providing year-round support to women in manufacturing.
“I had the opportunity to work with the [Precision] Metalforming Association and found that we had an interest from our female members who wanted to start connecting, networking and benchmarking with their fellow females in the industry,” says Allison Grealis, president and founder of WiM. “We proceeded and started supporting programs for them. We soon found out that there really wasn’t a resource for women in manufacturing. So we decided to hold a conference called the Summit, where we could bring women together for the purpose of networking and exchanging information, to support one another and to benchmark.”
The first Summit was held in Cleveland more than a decade ago.
“Immediately after holding the event, there was an interest from our attendees about joining an organization and being a part of something that went beyond the events of the day,” Grealis says. “So I went back to the office and created a business plan and strategy by which we could welcome members.”
Since then, WiM has been dedicated to addressing the issues women face when trying to enter a career in the manufacturing sector.
“Over the last decade, we have seen a great improvement not only in the percentage of women in manufacturing but also some real growth when it comes to women in leadership positions,” says Grealis. “I think one of our biggest challenges continues to be that women, and especially aspiring young women, don’t often see themselves in manufacturing. So the more we can highlight those individuals who have risen to the top or hold significant positions in the industry, the more we can inspire those who want to pursue a manufacturing job or career.”
Flexibility is Key
Naturally, technological advancements have made it more practical for women to advance in manufacturing today.
“If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that we need to be flexible in terms of rules and responsibilities,” Grealis says. “Technology has allowed people to be on schedules and in a production-centric model that sometimes allows them to be out of the office or not on the shop floor 100% of the time because they can monitor equipment from a mobile device or laptop.
“But company cultures have also changed,” Grealis adds. “Even though there are some companies that are still in need of improvement, many companies have embraced inclusivity in their policies and cultures.”
Taking a trade association from basically no members to almost 13,000 is no small feat, Grealis admits. It wouldn’t have been possible without creating some very strong strategic partnerships.
For instance, WiM has a joint membership program with the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME), the premier organization for the exchange of knowledge in enterprise excellence. In 2016, WiM created the Women in Manufacturing Education Foundation (WiMEF), another arm of the association dedicated to the development and delivery of enhanced educational opportunities.
In addition to its strategic partnerships, WiM also hosts a number of major events each year, through both its national office as well as its 30 chapters around the country. The next big event is the WiM Summit, slated for Atlanta and available virtualy Oct. 10-12. It is expected to attract more than 850 manufacturing professionals from across the country for plant tours, keynote presentations, roundtable discussions, breakout sessions and social events.