inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

COGAN: From Dreamhouse to Warehouse to C-Suite: Barbie’s New Role in Smart Manufacturing

The Barbie movie created a cultural phenomenon and amplified many discussions about female professional challenges. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I want to take a moment to channel the spirit of Barbie — a timeless symbol of evolving female roles — to address a very real problem: the underrepresentation of women in the manufacturing sector.

Consider this: Despite women making up nearly half of the global workforce, our footprint in manufacturing is a much smaller (30 percent), and women only hold one of every four manufacturing leadership positions. I’ve seen this disparity firsthand in my journey through the technology and smart manufacturing industries, the persistent gender imbalances have been unmistakable.

As an industry, we must work together to champion policies that do more than just attract women to manufacturing — our policies must ensure women stay, grow, and thrive.

Despite the perception that the sector is dominated by manual labor, today’s manufacturing is about smart, innovative practices where intellectual prowess outweighs physical strength. The industry has evolved from its “heavy lifting and grease” image of the 1970s, now offering a wide array of opportunities that leverage creativity and technological skills.

It also holds an opportunity for today’s 2.72 million unemployed women. The manufacturing industry has a massive labor shortage, with more than 600,000 job openings. That labor issue should and could be addressed by better educating women on the opportunities in this field.

More than 600,000 manufacturing companies operate within the US, indicating a vast landscape of opportunities for women — and the majority (98.6%) are small businesses. Women can engage in various roles across different sectors, crafting anything from high-tech electronics to consumer goods.

It’s worth noting that many of these positions don’t require a college degree, offering an attractive alternative for those wary of the debt associated with higher education. And with the average salary for women in manufacturing between $63K and $83K  — about 16% higher than in other fields — the industry presents a lucrative, accessible career path.

To bridge the gap for women in manufacturing, we must focus on three key areas: flexibility, visibility, and mentorship. Flexibility in job roles is paramount, especially for women juggling professional commitments and family responsibilities.

Visibility also plays a crucial role. Showcasing successful women in manufacturing can be a beacon of inspiration for others contemplating this career path. Highlighting the achievements of women in this field can motivate more to step forward.

Additionally, mentorship can be a real game-changer for women. By offering guidance, support, and advocacy for women navigating their careers in manufacturing — and connecting experienced professionals with newcomers — we can dismantle the unconscious biases that often hinder women’s advancement.

At Hexagon, we do everything possible to have at least one woman in the candidate pool for salaried positions. But getting them in the door and interviewing is just the first step; we must create an environment where they feel comfortable and empowered to stay in these roles.

One of the ways I’ve tried to do this is by going beyond mentorship to sponsorship, not just giving women career advice but actively (and willingly) advocating for them in rooms where they don’t yet have a seat at the table. I’ve already seen the impact that sponsorship can have – women feel more heard and empowered and are more likely to speak up. I have many female ex-team members who started as individual contributors and are now Directors or VPs. As women expand their skills and step into roles with higher levels of responsibility, the company benefits from the diverse, innovative ideas women bring to the table.

I urge my peer companies to challenge outdated perceptions, celebrate the immense opportunities awaiting in manufacturing, and foster an environment of support and empowerment. This Women’s History Month, we should embrace a win-win scenario – where manufacturing productivity is not held back by unemployment but empowered with female power.

MAILMAN: Is There More Than Masculinity to Celebrate This Women’s History Month?

I’ll admit it, I find Women’s History Month slightly obnoxious. In my defense, for a year I was in charge of editing all the proclamations from the White House trumpeting the named months, dampening my celebratory attitude. But before I earn an anti-feminist label, hear me out.

For one, the way we celebrate seems to accomplish little, or worse. SoulCycle wants to sell me the tiniest $52 WHM tank top. Will this small piece of cloth launch women into a new era of greatness? And when we do try to accomplish something, every event, email or donation drive promoting women assumes we love the equity agenda, open borders, and expensive and unreliable energy, as if women are monolithic in our views.

And the misinformation throughout the month is astounding. Women are paid 82 cents on the male dollar, I am told on repeat (ignoring differences in hours worked, profession and so on). But before I put on my marching shoes, I remind myself my own husband makes more than me because I eagerly rejected a soul-crushing job in favor of one I absolutely love. I will not be shamed into prioritizing 18 cents over happiness, balance and career satisfaction, that is for sure.

And I dislike minimizing people to their genitals. If someone has done something great, why not celebrate that achievement rather than genetic facts? As in, if we’d like to celebrate Kamala Harris, is there some accomplishment (and no, titles are not accomplishments) we can celebrate rather than just pointing out skin color and sex, like the White House did?

But, I’ll be a feminist yet. Why? Because I want to celebrate womanhood. There’s just so much to appreciate.

Unfortunately, when our society finally does get around to celebrating the accomplishments of women, it’s only their most male-sounding achievements. Being rich. Being powerful. Being athletic.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with being a Girl Boss. I myself collected three degrees and rose through the ranks at the White House, certainly worthwhile experiences, paved by Girl Bosses before me. But, is there nothing about femininity and womanhood itself to celebrate? It may not make the history books, but what about the women who raised Condoleezza Rice or Ruth Bader Ginsburg? We don’t need to know their names to be thankful for their work. And make no mistake — it is work.

By celebrating only career moves and finances, our society adopts the stance that men’s priorities must be the right ones. How misogynistic. The societal acceptance of these priorities is so invasive we barely recognize it. Netflix has a Girl Boss series right now, “Inventing Anna.” (It’s not worth watching.) The main character is a journalist who abandons her newborn so she can write a frivolous follow-up story about a criminal. I suppose this is supposed to be admirable. She is, after all, taking the steps a man would probably take. But why is the male norm the model? Is there nothing to applaud about drawing lines at work?

And in our obsession to recognize male-centric accomplishments, we’ve predictably started recognizing men. Like the first female four-star officer in the Department of Health and Human Services, who is a man. Or a female weightlifting record holder, who is also a man.

This has gone too far. There’s more to life than the male norm. It’s OK to celebrate the innumerable facets of being a woman. Be proud if you’ve given life. Be proud if you show emotion. Be proud if your home is spotless, if only for a minute. Be proud if you’re an amazing cook. Be proud if someone likes your smile. Be proud if the kids were picked up on time. Be proud if you found the perfect heels. Be proud if you make other people happy, successful or fulfilled. Be proud of being a woman.

If we’re going to do a lady month, let’s do it right. Let’s celebrate the beauty and the joy of being a woman.

Follow us on social media: Twitter: @DV_Journal or