Women in Manufacturing: Pointing Industry Toward a New Horizon

“Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick. THOSE DAYS ARE OVER.” — Bella Abzug

We all want great jobs, ones that create flexible, positive lives for ourselves and for our families. If that is so, why don’t women consistently select careers with greater potential?

How and why do young women — and young men — choose specific fields and does the difference matter? An interesting point came to light in a 2016 National Bureau of Economic Research study, suggesting that much of the observed career and compensation imbalance between the sexes can be chalked up to benign differences in personal preferences. Based on the study of undergraduate female and male students, females tended to select industries and positions that afforded more flexible hours and greater security. Males, on the other hand, tended to select less stable and often riskier positions where higher incomes and greater potential growth are the norm. Studies of risk acceptance and aversion aside….

What if women could enjoy better career options with flexible hours AND financial security?

Women tend toward the career paths of their mothers, grandmothers, friends, and role models — teaching or nursing, for example. Both are rewarding, meaningful choices certainly, but many women are wired differently. Faced with limited options, women can easily find themselves trapped in careers selected mainly to accommodate their caring for family, particularly small children. Nurturing seems to keep them out of the running for other, more lucrative, positions. This can — and must — change. It is time to make sure that women are able to consider industries with the right benefits, the right hours, and the right wages.

A field that is currently expanding with new opportunities for women is manufacturing. While there is a tendency to think of manufacturing conditions as they existed in generations past, nothing could be father from the truth today. Concerned about the stories that describe manufacturing as “dirty, dark, and dangerous”? The quality labs of today often cleaner than our own kitchens! Manufacturing is evolving into new directions, where innovation, technology, and creativity are resulting in countless new positions!

Manufacturing pays better than many would expect. Compare the wages comparison of an entry-level bartender, $20,533, with those of an entry-level machinist, $32,763. The average annual pay for a Connecticut manufacturing worker in 2016 was $79,456, and for a Hartford County power plant operator, $62,520.

Also consider that over the next 10 years, Connecticut advanced manufacturers, including Pratt and Whitney, Electric Boat, and Sikorsky, will need 25,000 career-ready, skilled workers. Growth potential and the opportunity for career advancement in manufacturing industries abound.

Peer pressure and perceptions may keep women looking in this direction when planning their careers. The mothers and grandmothers didn’t go into manufacturing, so “what will people say” if that becomes their career choice?

“Don’t waste your energy trying to change opinions… Do your thing and don’t care if they like it” — Tina Fey

The Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute reported that over 75 percent of women surveyed agreed that a manufacturing career is interesting and rewarding, emphasizing compensation and opportunities for challenging assignments as the top reasons to stay in the industry. The women currently in these jobs can see what is on the horizon for them and for other women.

“The amount of good luck coming your way depends on your willingness to act” — Barbara Sher

For those intrigued by these possibilities and wondering if this is the right direction them, the next question is finding the necessary training. Many manufacturing companies today are willing to invest in people who need jobs and want to be part of the future workforce. There are training programs, educational programs, and employer-affiliated programs to help interested workers join this economic movement. Some businesses are even hiring students still in the course of their educations, in effect paying them to go to manufacturing school!

Natalie Schilling, HR Vice President at Alcoa, shared her view of what is happening in manufacturing and how to attract women: “We as manufacturers need to demonstrate that we are responsive to the unique work-life challenges that women face — especially women who are or who plan to become mothers. We may need to allow flexible work schedules or allow women to manage the speed of their careers depending on their responsibilities outside of work. We also need more men to lead the way toward a more diverse and inclusive manufacturing force.”

In Connecticut alone, there are thousands of open manufacturing positions waiting for properly trained workers. Learn more about how Goodwin College’s manufacturing programs are open doors into an industry that is growing by the minute!


Sandi Coyne has had an eclectic background in both education and nonprofit leadership. She utilizes strong and ethical business practice as a means to bring disenfranchised groups into society. She has worked with homeless people, people living with HIV/AIDS, foster children and women in transition. Whether working with students or community members she believes in helping them to find the way through to their goals. She has been in education in both administrative and faculty positions for a number of years. She specializes in working with adult students and embraces the power that education can mean for people in transition. From marketing to nonprofit leadership Sandi brings her experience to bear and enhance the educational experience. As a volunteer, she was one of the forces behind the development and opening of the Ronald McDonald House in Springfield, Massachusetts. She is honored to be a part of Goodwin College.