At one Pennsylvania manufacturer, women play important roles and find success with tangible results.
By Susan Towers
A recent study by Deloitte found that women constitute one of U.S. manufacturing’s largest pools of untapped talent. Women made up about 47 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2016, but accounted for a small portion of manufacturing jobs. Underrepresentation of females in manufacturing may be due in part to the perception that jobs in the industry are “too difficult” or “too dirty” for women. At Miller Welding and Machine Co. (MWM), a strategic metal fabrication partner for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), in Brookville, Pa., women are a vital part of the workforce. Female employees put their skills to use, whether on the shop floor or in the C-suite. While they work in various roles, these women all agree on one thing: anyone can have a successful career in manufacturing, regardless of gender.
Desire and Dedication
Dana Helmheckel, scheduling assistant, has worked for MWM for four years. Before her start in manufacturing, she held jobs in a variety of fields, including retail, foodservice and customer service management.
“There is nothing preventing a woman from taking a job in manufacturing,” Helmheckel said. “You just need to have the desire and dedication to work hard to be successful in the field.” While previously working in road construction, Helmheckel was placed on a project because they “needed a minority on the job.” This rationale upset her, as she felt that she was filling a gender quota instead of a position based on her ability and experience. She feels that determining who can perform the role well is most important, not gender, when considering a person for a job.
When asked why she thinks women are hesitant to enter manufacturing as a profession, Christy Teeter, a machine shop crew leader, said that some women may think they can’t physically do the job or they’re scared because they don’t understand what the work entails. “I think many women perceive manufacturing as ‘dirty work,’ which is why they might not consider it for a profession.”
Teeter has worked at MWM for 21 years, starting as a machine operator for 15 years. She has been at her current position for the last seven years and oversees 20 employees in the machine shop. Not one to sit at a desk, Teeter likes a job in which she’s helping to produce something tangible. “I like to see what can be made from a piece of steel. I have always been the type of person to go out and do something active for work.”
With men making up much of the workforce, some women might find the field intimidating. This hasn’t been the case for Teeter. She has found that most of the men on the shop floor respect her and her expertise.
When it comes to gender, Teeter believes it’s not as big of an issue as many perceive it to be. “In my experience, if you treat people as they would want to be treated, they will respect you regardless of gender. If you perform your job well, gender shouldn’t matter. What’s more important is whether you can get the task completed successfully,” Teeter explains.
It’s not uncommon for people to change careers during their working lives. Some of the women working at MWM have previously had careers in other fields before turning to manufacturing. Even though they may have different backgrounds, they possess a wide range of skills to bring to their jobs.
“You don’t need a college degree or to be a certain age or background to get a well-paying job in manufacturing,” Teeter said. “You can truly start from anywhere, at any time, and still be successful.”
Michele Davis, a fore(wo)man who has been with MWM for five years, was previously a foodservice manager for more than 25 years before she opted for a career change. A friend who worked at MWM pushed Davis to apply for a position. Although she didn’t have previous experience in manufacturing, Davis knew her strong work ethic made her a solid candidate for the position and applied.
Davis says that while many women have limited perceptions about working in manufacturing as always involving “heavy lifting,” she found it offered her a better schedule and opportunities for advancement, growth and development.
Cathy Elensky began her career with MWM as a buyer before being promoted to a materials manager where she oversaw inventory transactions, warehousing, shipping, purchasing and planning functions. She was also heavily involved in forecasting work to be scheduled in the plant. Her 12 years of experience at MWM across different parts of the business led to her promotion this year to chief financial officer.
“The great thing about Miller is that we want to invest in you and your career with us,” said Elensky. “By investing time and money into professional development for our employees, we know it will pay off in the long run for all involved.”
This approach is guided by the MWM mission, which stresses building long-term relationships with not only customers and vendors, but employees and the community at large.
While manufacturing offers a wide array of options for employees, when it comes to gender, Elensky thinks it shouldn’t be a boundary. She sums it up like this, “I don’t believe in segmenting jobs by gender; simply hire people who abide by your core values and you’ll find your dream team.”
Susan Towers serves as Marketing Director at Miller Welding & Machine Company, a strategic fabrication partner for innovative OEMs. Susan has over 15 years of experience in marketing, inside sales, channels/alliances, communications, and public relations. Prior to joining Miller, she has held management positions within various software and manufacturing companies. Susan holds a BA from La Salle University and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. Contact Susan at email@example.com.