Unfortunately for most women, a career in manufacturing does not seem like a viable option. However, much progress has been to take down the barriers and remove negative stigmas in order to create a more diverse manufacturing workforce. Even though the majority of people in the industry are men, some women have played a vital role in the evolution of manufacturing throughout history. Without these women, manufacturing as we know it would not exist and hopefully speaking and teaching about these key influencers will encourage women interested in the industry to ignore any doubts they have about doing what they love.
Let’s examine some women throughout history that played an instrumental role in this critical industry and the women of today that continue to push the manufacturing industry forward.
Margaret E. Knight (1838-1914)
Dubbed “Lady Edison” Margaret Knight pioneered a new safety device for textile looms. Motivated by seeing an employee injure herself in a textile mill in New Hampshire by a faulty piece of equipment, Knight took it upon herself to create a safer working environment for her and her peers. Her first patent was approved in 1871 for a paper feeding machine that cuts, folds and glues brown paper bags. These are the same kind of paper bags that we use today.
Throughout her life she received 12 patents that included an internal combustion engine in 1913. Other incredible inventions included a shoe sole cutting machine, rotary engine and the reel. With her introduction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006, her name will live on as a influential woman in the manufacturing and engineering industry.
Stephanie Kwolek (1923 – 2014)
A true innovator that discovered her passion for manufacturing, Stephanie Kwolek developed critical synthetic fibers that changed the world forever. If you have ever worn a helmet, skied or driven over a suspension bridge, then you have Kwolek to thank as she is the inventor of Kevlar. Saving lives of military personnel, police officers and civilians, Kwolek’s hard work and determination changed the way the world uses synthetic polymers.
Taking a job at the chemical company DuPont, her initial plan was to save money for medical school. Yet her lifelong passion for fibers and fashion eventually lead her on a different path that would keep her at DuPont. She was researching how to turn polymers into synthetic fibers but noticed if she used polymers that formed rows and ran them through a spinneret, something amazing happened. She ended up developing Kevlar, a fiber that is as strong as steel. The world would absolutely not be the same without Kwolek’s work.
Starting her manufacturing career at a paper mill in Wisconsin during her summers while she attended college, she began to see manufacturing for what it really was, a fulfilling and essential industry. “I found it very exciting to watch materials come together to make a final product,” she said in a piece by AmericanManufacturing.org. Witnessing production lines being shut down, lay-offs and less summer student positions available it made her want to understand why this was occurring. Hasse wanted to get to the bottom of what was happening to American manufacturing and what could be done to help protect and bolster the industry.
Now working as the Field Coordinator for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, she has the opportunity to work toward strengthening the United States manufacturing industry. Many young girls and women that may be interested in manufacturing don’t have many role models to look up to, but Meghan Hasse is the epitome of a strong, female manufacturing leader and one that can be an inspiration to many in the years to come.
Founder and President of Women in Manufacturing (WiM), Allison has taken it upon herself along with the support of others from WiM, to create an organization for women interested in or already a part of the manufacturing industry. WiM provides women that work in the industry with tools and information that can help them throughout their manufacturing career. From hosting events that offer women a forum to discuss what the industry still needs to do in order to become more diverse, all the way to leadership training; WiM offers so much to the industry.
Grealis is also the vice president of membership and association services of the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) which is a full-service trade association representing the metalforming industry. She has a passion for supporting, promoting and inspiring women in the manufacturing sector to pursue their dreams within this fulfilling industry. She isn’t just helping to inspire women throughout the WiM organization, she is a role model for any women pursuing a STEM or manufacturing career.
More from Allison Grealis with MFG Talk Radio: https://mfgtalkradio.com/women-in-manufacturing-part-i/
Without women such as the ones mentioned above, the manufacturing industry would be fundamentally different. A diverse industry creates a successful industry as different perspectives lead to innovative ideas and progress being made. As the stigma surrounding manufacturing continues to be chipped away, a diverse future for the industry is becoming more realistic. These women and many others have contributed so much to the manufacturing industry and have helped inspire the next generation of women in manufacturing.