The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) is the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the U.S. and a leading advocate for women business owners and entrepreneurs.
Certification validates that the business is at least 51 percent owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women.
It is well-known that women are underrepresented in the manufacturing industry. Women totaled about 47% of the U.S. labor force in 2016, but only 29% of the manufacturing workforce. The reasons, as one article stated, include a “lack of role models, gender stereotyping and less family-friendly flexibility that exists in STEM fields.”
Mentorship is the Key
Integrity’s attainment of WBENC certification in November 2018 gave occasion for Cheryl Wellman, Owner and President, to reflect upon her experience as a woman in manufacturing.
Cheryl related that “Most of the women I meet in leadership or ownership positions are 2nd generation – they have worked their way up through the family business. They were exposed to manufacturing as girls and young women and that makes a huge difference. In general, girls are not really encouraged to pursue a career in manufacturing. In fact, they are more often discouraged.”
Cheryl said that she was fortunate to have strong mentors. “Dave and Cathy Collins (the owners of Lindy Manufacturing) were so supportive. I began at Lindy in accounting, but quickly became fascinated by the whole manufacturing process. They gave me so many opportunities to learn every aspect of the business.”
Holly Barajas, Vice President at Integrity, also stressed how Dave and Cathy’s mentorship led to her wide-ranging career in manufacturing. “My experience probably wasn’t typical”, she said. “Dave and Cathy really encouraged my interest in manufacturing and gave me opportunities to prove myself. The fact that I was a woman was not an issue.” She continued, “If more women had the opportunity to explore their interests at an early age, we would undoubtedly have more women managers and owners today.”
Cheryl and Holly both expressed that there is still a perception of manufacturing as a dirty, dead-end job. To paraphrase one source – manufacturing jobs are misrepresented as being repetitive, low-skilled and dull, not to mention requiring a lot of physical strength.
Unfortunately, this perception hinders the recruitment of young people to the industry. The reality is that computers, automation and the increased complexity of modern production process require very highly skilled workers.
It is also wrong to assume that there are no opportunities in manufacturing. Cheryl and Holly both stressed that all anyone has to do is look at the diverse positions they’ve held at Lindy and Integrity to gain a sense how many options there are – for both women and men – in the manufacturing industry.
Indeed, opportunities can be found on the shop floor, but also in sales, accounting, marketing, logistics, and more. As Cheryl said, “I encourage any young person to be open to possibilities.”For women, in particular, Holly offered some final words of advice, “don’t be afraid and be tenacious.”
Considering a career in manufacturing? We would love to talk and give you a tour.