Out of a need came an idea, and out of an idea came a movement. Women in Manufacturing (WiM) is a national trade association that offers a host of professional development, education, and networking opportunities that previously did not exist for women in industry.
The association originated out of the need for representation and community for working women, and came to be when Allison Grealis, Vice President of Association Services for Precision Metalforming Association and President of WiM, had the opportunity to work with “many outstanding and really accomplished women in metalforming,” such as Gretchen Zierick, PMA’s first female chairperson.
Identifying the lack of resources for working women like themselves, Grealis and Zierick came together to form a community for women in metalforming that could meet regularly, conduct roundtables, and other fact-finding missions, and program events where women could network.
According to Grealis, at the time, “We decided to research and figure out if there were communities that supported sharing in the industry for women leaders, so not having found one, we decided to put together a program, which was our first ever SUMMIT held in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2011.”
The event brought together 133 attendees in its inaugural year, attracting women leaders and industry experts alike. Little did they know that this SUMMIT would be the kickoff to something much bigger and more impactful than they had dared to hope.
Plans and ambitions
Grealis recalls attendees approaching her saying, “How can we engage with women in manufacturing year-round? How can we become part of this membership base or community all year?” She quickly revised her plans and ambitions and Women in Manufacturing became not just an event, but a full-service trade association operating throughout the year.
Grealis and her counterparts quickly realized that the organization was addressing a real need – one that had been present for a very long time. Women desired opportunities for support, promotion, and inspiration and that ultimately became their mission.
The Women in Manufacturing initiative was established in 2010 and became an official trade association in 2015. As a 501(c)6, it operates with a diverse twenty-member board representative of companies of varying sizes, products and service offerings.
Its membership has grown to more than three thousand, with one hundred corporate members, and it has twenty-one chapters nationwide. There are four classes of membership: student, professional, professional plus, and corporate. Membership of each tier comes with varying costs and benefits.
The SUMMIT remains its most successful event and member resource. The three-day event focuses on different aspects of the industry that are relevant for that year. The first day is dedicated to technology and providing an up-close view of manufacturing, including facility tours. The remaining days are committed to education, training, and inspiration, with keynote speakers, sessions, and workshops.
“They experience over a day and a half learning different subject matter such as negotiation, communication skills, career road mapping, engaging men in manufacturing as diversity partners, so the topics change,” Grealis explains.
She adds, “Our SUMMIT is what we consider to be our big annual event as an organization and each year fifty to seventy new people participate. Held in the fall each year, historically it is held in a different metropolitan hub each year.”
The plan for the SUMMIT’s tenth anniversary is to take it back to where it all began. So in 2020 the event will return to Cleveland, 28 – 30 September, the first time that it revisits the site of a previous SUMMIT. The event is expected to draw over five-hundred attendees and will include the first ever WiM hall-of-fame class and closing gala.
Grealis explains WiM’s motivation; why WiM strives to give its members countless channels to network with one another, both in person at events like SUMMIT, and also through its online platform: “A connected community is really important to us. We want people to not feel alone, to feel like they have a network of women out there supporting them.”
WiM’s management-development program has been designed “for those who are soon to manage or lead, or rising leaders in manufacturing organization or those who are earlier career.” The program combines in-person sessions with online learning and has successfully graduated two classes to date. Grealis referred to it as, “a transformational experience.”
In addition, WiM’s ‘Leadership Lab for Women’ is the only program of its kind in the country and it is conducted in partnership with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. To date, five classes have graduated, and nearly half of its graduates have subsequently received some form of promotion or advancement.
“This is intended more for executive women in manufacturing,” Grealis explains, “those who are managers or supervisors, vice-presidents, directors. It helps them with peer coaching, professional executive coaching. We do assessments as part of that program and in-class learning that happens as part of the curriculum, but that has been an amazingly powerful program to help women get to that next level of their careers.”
The organization is planning to launch an advanced Leadership Lab in the summer of 2020, which will take this executive learning program to the next level and help its members do the same with their careers.
WiM also offers virtual learning that reaches between two-hundred-and-fifty and five-hundred live participants every other month. These sessions are archived and made available online and serve as an invaluable resource for members.
Through its online platform WiM offers a place to learn, connect and grow. A job board, accessible via its online portal, enables companies to find and vet candidates, post internship and apprenticeship opportunities, and has the spin-off of strengthening ties between members, industry, and the community.
Growth has been, and will continue to be, the focus for WiM. As Grealis notes, “Our growth has been very positive. We’ve had year after year growth in profitability, and we see quite a bright future in expanding our network, expanding our partnerships with other trade associations that are like minded, as well as other companies that are very committed to diversity and advancing women in manufacturing.”
‘Hear Her Story’
Women make up only twenty-nine percent of the industry, which means there’s still ground to be made in terms of equal representation, as well as female representation at the executive level, on corporate boards, and in leadership roles. One way this is achieved is through the ‘Hear Her Story’ initiative which has been going since 2012.
Through this series produced by WiM – which serves as what Grealis calls “a pillar of inspiration” – nearly one-hundred women have been featured, shining a light on the many success stories and highlighting the opportunities for women in modern-day manufacturing operations.
While Grealis does see more companies and corporations that are legitimately committed to changing what the workforce looks like, there are still challenges preventing that from taking place industry-wide, including a lack of resources.
“Companies, especially small- to mid-size, don’t have internal leadership development programs. They don’t have all the tools or resources needed to develop their employees. Our biggest challenge is, how can we develop robust curriculum and training and tools that they can employ to help with that advancement?” she says.
In 2016, WiM expanded its capacity through the establishment of an Education Foundation, a not-for-profit arm of the organization that has a unique board of directors and works to support the efforts of the organization in its mission to “support, promote and inspire.”
A long way to go
While WiM has come a long way in ten years, growing in size and impact, Grealis acknowledges that there is still work to be done. “I feel like progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go before we have equity of women in manufacturing.”
“We know that often people can’t be what they can’t see,” Grealis notes, so WiM is working to give both manufacturing careers and female leaders in the industry higher visibility, expanding its programming and education, and growing its networks through its chapters and membership.
If this is what it takes to achieve equity and provide a platform to help women in manufacturing reach their true potential, WiM is on the job.