Insights from Women in Manufacturing: Challenges, Rewards & Advice

Manufacturing has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, but times are changing. More and more women are entering the field and making a real impact. To gain insights into women’s experiences in manufacturing, we recently hosted a roundtable discussion with six female employees at KMM Group. Our panelists shared their stories and experiences, discussed their challenges, and discussed the rewards of working in manufacturing. They also advised other women interested in pursuing a career in this dynamic and exciting field. Read on to learn more about their inspiring stories and discover why gender inclusivity is important in manufacturing.

Our panelists: 

Anu Guda, Senior Accountant, Joined KMM in Feb 2023 (AG)
Charlotte Coppins, Admin Assistant, Joined KMM in Dec 2022 (CC)
Mercedes Jenkins, Grinding Technician-CNC O.D. Dept., Joined KMM in Dec 2022 (MJ)
Michelle Martin-Laughlin, Director of Client & Employee Experience, Joined KMM in July 2005 (MML)
Sue Cloran, Director of Sales, Joined KMM in July 2016 (SC)
Veronica Green, Quality Associate, Joined KMM Apr 2016 (VG)

Moderator: Thank you to our panelists for being here. This is a valuable discussion that sheds light on the experiences of women in the manufacturing industry. Your stories and insights are inspiring and will help to encourage other women to pursue careers in this dynamic and rewarding field. We appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge and experiences with our audience. With that, let’s get started.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the manufacturing industry, and how did you end up working at KMM Group?

AG: Jess [Leggett] and I worked together previously. When I told her I was looking for a job, she asked whether I would be interested in working with her again. She spoke very highly of the people and the company. I’ve been working here for two weeks now, and I can certainly say that I do feel a positive vibe in this work environment.

CC: My mom inspired me to work in the manufacturing industry. She has been working for M&S for almost 20 years and has been there through the company’s many milestones. She has worked with John [Shegda] to facilitate a work culture that promotes excellence and really has dedicated herself to seeing the company succeed. Her passion and dedication truly inspire me every day to do my very best in all that I do.

MJ: My dad encouraged me to get into this field for the most part. He thought it was something I’d be good at and enjoy. It was always something I was interested in but never had the opportunity to learn more about. I took a metalworking class at Bucks County Community College in 2022 and loved it. During the class, we had company tours, and KMM was one of the companies. 

MML: I have a degree in Accounting Management and was working for a pretty big accounting firm, and I hated it. I actually responded to an ad in the newspaper (They don’t have those anymore, I don’t think -LOL!) for a receptionist and learned the business from the ground up.

VG: My official introduction to manufacturing happened many years ago.  Fresh out of basic training, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took a job at a temp agency, which was my first manufacturing job. Fast forward many years later (I won’t say how many), I was working close by where we are now when a coworker referred me to the Metalworks program at Bucks County Community College. The plan was to gain knowledge to advance within the company I was working for at the time. I worked there at night and went to school during the day. My first tour was at M&S, and once I heard John speak about the company and employees, I knew right then and there that this [KMM] was where I needed to be.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role at KMM Group, and how do you overcome them?

CC: One of the challenges I face is not knowing the ins and outs of the business. I’m fairly new to the manufacturing industry, so I’m still learning how it all works from all different aspects. I overcome these challenges by asking questions and having an open line of communication with my managers and peers. I feel lucky to work for an establishment that values communication, so when I do have a question, I’m not afraid to ask.

MJ: I’m still “green,” so I face a lot of challenges every day; keeping my parts in size, setting up a job, etc. I overcome them with support from the guys I work with and just keep pushing myself and telling myself that this is the only way to learn and grow: by facing challenges.

MML: There were several challenges for me. The first was that I did not have a manufacturing background, and I had to learn to read blueprints, etc. I started at M&S Centerless Grinding filing/answering phones and worked my way up to Office Manager, then Operations Manager. John, Tony, and Darrin taught me how to use a mic, read blueprints, etc. I learned the business inside and out.

How has the company culture at KMM Group helped to support your professional growth and development?

AG: One thing I greatly admire is the corporate culture. I love that every week some time is dedicated to affirming the culture through the fundamentals meeting. Sometimes during the daily grind, we forget our sense of purpose. Only when we step away to reflect and ponder our goals can we give our best to accomplish those goals.

CC: Even though I’m fairly new to the company, the culture here paves the way for professional and personal growth through the fundamentals and excellent leadership. Every person I work closely with always lifts me up, helps me if I need it, and genuinely wants to see me succeed. I feel like it’s a supportive community of people who want to help every person grow professionally.

MML: This is a great question – This is the first place I’ve worked where you have the structure of your role, but within that structure, you have the freedom to make decisions. No decision is considered the wrong decision. We have the flexibility and freedom to make mistakes. We have a saying that states, “always make new mistakes.”

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job, and what motivates you to come to work every day?

AG: I’ve been here only for two weeks, but I think it’s the attitude of the people here that motivates me and drive me to be better at my job. Everyone I have come across has been kind and go out of their way to help me. I see a sense of pride in their work.

CC: The people I work with and the feeling that I’m contributing to a greater purpose are hugely motivating. Everyone that I work with genuinely cares about their role in making the company grow to be a success. They provide a community where I feel supported, valued, and respected, and that’s what motivates me to come to work and do my best every day.

MJ: One of the most rewarding aspects I’ve come across so far is completing a job with no scraps. Another would be after setting up a job, watching my machine do what I’ve told it to do and do it correctly. I think the last one would be knowing I’m making parts that help people. It helps make the frustrating things not so frustrating. Motivation for me comes from my son. I’m a single mom and want to make a good life for him. He deserves it, and this job helps me to do that.

MML: One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is when I get to help an employee. Whether it’s with their insurance stuff or talking about personal problems, I love people! The people and the culture are what motivate me. I have been here for almost 18 years and wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

SC: My background is in the tech world, which is usually viewed as a more attractive industry than manufacturing. This can’t be further from the truth! Tech provides tools for creators to manipulate designs, communicate and secure their work. All of these are necessary. However, manufacturing amps it up a bit. Not only in manufacturing do you bring ideas into reality, but you also make the part that is critical to lifting a rocket into space, the essential piece to make a winning Nascar team, and a key component for respirators during a pandemic, just to name a few! You are literally impacting the world.

How do you feel about the opportunities available for women in manufacturing, both at KMM Group and in the industry more broadly?

SC: We have doubled the percentage of women working at KMM in the last 5 years. As we grow, so does the need for expertise on and off the manufacturing floor, and women have been crucial in our success to date. Manufacturing has many entry points that allow those interested to come from varied backgrounds, such as high school, college, service jobs, engineering jobs, as well as many other areas. This flexibility presents many opportunities for women at any stage of their careers. You will find company sizes spanning from private companies with 30 employees to global conglomerates, which also provide custom opportunities for women. Whether you like to work with your hands or with a spreadsheet, manufacturing offers many prospects for women today.

What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a career in the manufacturing industry?

CC: I say GO FOR IT! The world is changing, and it’s an exciting time to be a woman in manufacturing. It’s an innovative, enriched, and diverse industry. There is a broad range of roles, and I guarantee there’s a career waiting for you here. You will find success and a sense of accomplishment while contributing to the technologies of the future. Furthermore, you will help increase the expanding opportunities for other women and continue to diversify the industry. Women are the future of manufacturing, and the industry needs us!

MJ: I would say to just do it. Take the leap. It’s a scary feeling entering a field you may not have much or any experience in at all, especially a male-dominated field. I know I was super nervous because of that when I first started, but all the guys here at KMM have been nothing but encouraging and helpful. You really don’t know until you just do it. You’re the only thing holding yourself back.

MML: My advice would be to explore all manufacturing opportunities. Manufacturing today is exciting and life-changing. It’s no longer dark and dingy.

SC: If you are a solution-oriented individual, you will find a career in the manufacturing field extremely rewarding. Wherever you see yourself fitting in the “maker” life cycle – from inception to design to build to selling to invoicing – there is a dynamic opportunity awaiting.

VG: My advice to any woman who has even the slightest interest in manufacturing is to go for it. It can seem intimidating, but the opportunities to learn and make a difference are endless. Never stop striving to perfect your craft, and don’t forget the ones who will come after you. They will look to you for guidance. 

There’s a growing trend of women entering the manufacturing field. In your opinion, how does gender inclusivity benefit the industry?

MML: Women have this innate sense of pride for their work as well as enormous attention to detail. I feel pretty strongly that the manufacturing industry has lost out on hiring women in the past. However, there definitely is a shift happening now. I know KMM has been on the “school” circuit for a few years now, talking about careers in manufacturing. It’s important to get out to the middle/high schools every year.

How have you seen the manufacturing industry change over the course of your career, and what do you think the future holds for women in this field?

MML: When I first started, I definitely had something to prove as a woman. With the shift that is taking place, I feel that women are more accepted in this industry.

SC: There has been an evolution in both the physical and conscious environments in manufacturing. Gone are the dark, dangerous environments that were the case many years ago. Today’s manufacturing facilities are hi-tech, safe, and clean. Also gone are the thoughts that women should be relegated to specific duties. Instead, we have women working side by side in all roles that men occupy, and they are killing it! This is why KMM works with school districts to educate not only young men but also young women on the prospects of a manufacturing career.

VG: I’ve seen the industry go from not even wanting us around to barely tolerating us to welcoming us with open arms. I think that the industry is realizing that we are far greater assets than they initially realized. Hopefully, this will lead to more seats at the table because we definitely deserve respect.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned throughout your career, and how do you apply those lessons to your work at KMM Group?

MML: KMM has allowed me to truly grow and be my true authentic self. I can make mistakes, and it’s ok. I have learned to show empathy in all stations and to truly seek to understand each situation.

For more insights on women in manufacturing, check out our blog article featuring two inspiring stories of KMM women breaking barriers. You might also be interested in joining many of our fellow team members in joining or supporting Women in Manufacturing (WiM). This organization supports women who’ve chosen a career in manufacturing.  

Moderator: Thanks again to our panelists for contributing to this insightful discussion about women in manufacturing. Your perspectives and experiences provide valuable insights into the challenges and rewards of working in this field. We hope your stories will inspire more women to pursue careers in manufacturing, and we appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge with us.

Are you interested in joining these and other members of our dynamic and exceptional team? Visit our Employment page to discover the many rewarding career opportunities waiting for you.