Building Your Community with Women in Manufacturing

Allison Grealis

Founder & President at Women in Manufacturing Association and Education Foundation

Learning Objectives

Join us for an executive interview with the President of the Women in Manufacturing Association and Education Foundation, Allison Grealis as she discusses why she created the foundation, and the many challenges woman face in the manufacturing industry.


Key Takeaways:



  • What is the Women in Manufacturing Association and why did you create the organization?

  • What types of resources does the association offer its members?

  • What are the main challenges for women in manufacturing?

  • Why are you so passionate about supporting, promoting and inspiring women in manufacturing careers?

  • What motivates and inspires you?


"I think the trends that we see for our members is that technology and automation are going to continue to play a very important role in how we do work."

Allison Grealis

Founder & President at Women in Manufacturing Association and Education Foundation

Transcript

Britt Erler

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the IMPACT Smart Manufacturing and R&D Virtual Summit. My name is Britt Erler, QN Executive Correspondent. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m thrilled to welcome our guest speaker here with us today Allison Grealis, Founder and President of Women in Manufacturing. Welcome, Allison.


Allison Grealis

Thank you, Britt.


Britt Erler

Pleasure to have you here. I can’t wait to dive into this conversation today, so let’s kick it off right away. Tell me more about the Women in Manufacturing Association, and why did you start it?


Allison Grealis

Sure. The Women Manufacturing Association, I started it now 10 years ago. The key reason why I started the organization was to provide a community for women in manufacturing careers. I had the opportunity to work within the trade association space. I had the great opportunity to meet many leaders and founders and key executives in manufacturing companies. As they were looking to network and share best practices, and really share resources with one another, we found that there wasn’t a natural network for them to do so. So, we decided to try to bring together these women in industry, provide them a forum and a platform to which they could share information. We kind of kicked off the organization, first and foremost with an event. We started with a conference, which we called our Summit, and that was held in Cleveland, Ohio, which is where we’re headquartered. We brought together people from all over the country and all different levels, and layers within manufacturing companies, to network, to start building a community, and to share resources.


Britt Erler

Wow, it’s incredible. If you don’t mind me asking, how many members does your organization have?


Allison Grealis

Presently, we are now more than 5500 individual members member strong. We have members in almost every US state as well as in 11 countries.


Britt Erler

Fantastic. What types of resources does your association provide these women?


Allison Grealis

As I mentioned, one of the key reasons we first got started was to provide women a network. Our membership provides women the opportunity to network with one another. We have an online directory. We have 27 chapters throughout the country. We also provide learning and education, ao we have learning on demand and our online learning library. We have also formal leadership programs for every level and layer of a woman in a manufacturing career. We have programs for those that are early career managers and leaders. We have programs for executive women in Manufacturing. Then, we have two newer programs. One is designed as a leadership consortium for male and female leaders in manufacturing. Then, our newest program starts in the fall of this year in 2021 for women in production. We know that often individuals that need us most are early in their career and those that are perhaps in the hourly ranks. So, we’re now working on this Women in Production Program to provide them support, inspiration, and guidance as they look to grow their career.


Britt Erler

Incredible. Talk to me a little bit more how the involvement maybe has shifted in this past year, especially now that everything is virtua? I personally believe that Manufacturing is one of the industries that got hit the hardest. I believe your support that you provide is more important now than ever. Talk to me a little bit about the differences you’ve seen.


Allison Grealis

Our organization, primarily, we were delivering a lot of our services live with live and local areas through our chapters, as well as live through our regional and national conferences and events. We quickly pivoted to provide all of our learning and our connecting resources to members in a virtual way and format. It’s really been amazing. This virtual disruption, and this pandemic has really allowed us to reach many more members than we probably ever would have been able to. Individuals that maybe didn’t have the resources or the ability to travel live to our chapter events or national conferences and programs, they’ve been able to very easily tap into an on demand platform and live learning platform to meet new people from all over the country, to listen to learning sessions. It’s really broadened our reach as an organization, which is really exciting. We celebrated our 10th annual summit last year in 2020. We thought we would be doing so live in Cleveland, where we kind of got things started. We also launched our Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame last year. Again, we had intended to be celebrating that live in person, but we did so in a virtual way. This year’s conference, we delivered all of the same learning, actually even more educational tracks than we normally would. We had close to a 250% increase in our participation this year’s event. Again, much of it was because of the ability that we were able to deliver live on demand and to not have the certain requirements of having to travel and to be live at a program. It provides some unique opportunities, as well as some unique challenges, but it’s been a great year. What we’re finding is that this year with the pandemic, obviously companies have lots of needs. Manufacturing companies still have to hire. They’re still looking to retain their top talent and individuals in the organization. Many companies have been even more active with us this year as they’ve tapped into our learning resources or development tools, as well as a lot of our recruitment resources. We, as an organization, have tried to expand those resources for companies. We’ve launched virtual career fairs that companies can use to recruit because they can’t be on campus, they can’t go live into a community to recruit often. We bolster the resources in our job board that we have, and then, tried to create new resources for companies as they’re looking to recruit talent.


Britt Erler

I love that. Really creating that sense of community, I think, especially right now, everything’s done via Zoom or Teams, whatever platform it is that they’re using, but at the same time, a lot of people feel alone, They feel a little lost kind of what direction should they go, but it sounds like you guys provide some incredible programs to help these women and even men, in some circumstances, really move forward in their career, even during this challenging time. I think that’s incredible. Aside from the pandemic, what are some other challenges that you see facing Women in the Manufacturing industry today?


Allison Grealis

I think many of the challenges, even before pandemic, I think women were more disadvantaged often in the workforce. There are often less opportunities, or perhaps less support vehicles and more development vehicles for women perhaps. I think that the pandemic, unfortunately, has had a bit of a negative impact on women in just general careers. If you look at the recent study by McKinsey and Linen, they just produced their 2020 Women in the Workplace study. Unfortunately, it showed that there has been a negative impact on women working. The pandemic has taken its toll, and I think even more so on women who are juggling and balancing career and life and family and schooling. I’m a mom of two, and I’ve had to deal with all of the same disruptions in those new things to add into a schedule as others. As we look at general challenges for women, even prior to pandemic, as you mentioned, I think we saw and the reason we got started was that we didn’t see necessarily a support network for women and Manufacturing careers, because we’re the minority in this part of the kind of industry and the population. Women weren’t seeing other women like them, and they weren’t necessarily finding role models, and they weren’t finding mentors or coaches. The goal has been and always will be to really provide that access to resources for both inspiration and coaching and mentoring, as well as support. Often women are one of just a few at their company or at their facility, and so, for us to be able to provide a network, if they can’t find it internally, to find it externally is really important. One of our biggest, most valuable takeaways for members is really that sharing best practices. We’re often producing panels. We’re producing keynotes and discussions around the sometimes difficult or challenging conversations. What if women can combat it, and what if they had these challenges, as they’ve risen, and I’ve grown in their career, they can share those lessons learned to future generations, so they don’t often have to experience those same things.


Britt Erler

Exactly. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it’s challenging for women in the workplace in general, but as you mentioned, manufacturing is such a tricky one. Even with this summit program that we have, it is so challenging for us to find female speakers, because as you mentioned it, you are such a minority. It’s fantastic to have you here today, and to see that there are programs being built to really push women into this industry, because it’s much needed clearly. Now, what recommendations do you have for women that are facing these challenges?


Allison Grealis

I would say to not go alone. As you mentioned, when we first surveyed our year one participants of our summit, it was so very moving to hear their stories, because so many of them said, “This was the first time that I went to an industry conference, and I was with people like me,” and they felt like they weren’t alone. They now had people all over the country they could tap into for support and resources and guidance. For a person in manufacturing who’s a female, I would suggest that they find a community, whether it be with us nationally, or one of our local chapters, or to perhaps tap into your own affinity group or employee resource group, if you have one at your company. Take advantage of those resources, and to take advantage of the amazing mentors and sponsors that are within our industry. I know all of our members are very open to supporting others, to lending guidance, as well lending support. I would encourage individuals to tap into our network, to tap into their own corporate networks, and their community networks. There’s tons of business organizations as well, leverage those relationships. It’s one of the things that I’ve learned over my career, is that relationships very much matter. Maintaining and building and creating new relationships is so important as you navigate your career. It’s often those relationships that you have that can introduce you to a new opportunity, or be sponsor and advocate for you, or speak about you when a new opportunities arise. I would share people to leverage our network, or find a network, and to not go through it alone.


Britt Erler

Absolutely. I love to see that—women supporting women. I think that’s such a key theme, for lack of a better word, that we saw in 2020, and now to 2021, for all of the industries is women really coming together, and help them pushing themselves professionally. Now, from a personal level, I am curious, why are you so passionate about this?


Allison Grealis

Since an early age, I was very passionate and really interested in the advancement of women. When I was younger, my mom got me involved in Girl Scouts. From an early age, I was bonded together with other young women to that point. Sell Girl Scouts, and earn badges, and to do good things within our community and do service. I saw the power of getting together with people like me. It was really exciting to see other young girls at the time, who had big dreams and wanted to accomplish wonderful things. From an early age, I formed relationships and got involved in organizations, often many of which were gender based and female oriented. As I went to college, I was an English pre-law, Women’s Studies major, and love to learning about kind of the history of the women’s movement and the importance of women’s organizations. Soon after college, I then decided to pursue a career working in the public service space. I got my degree and my Master’s in Public Administration, and wanted to work for an organization that was mission oriented. I wasn’t sure if that would be in the nonprofit sector or in the government, and so I found myself working with trade associations. As I mentioned, within that trade association, finding lots of female members that were often third or fourth or fifth generation women that were leading family businesses, most of them were small to mid sized, privately held, and was so inspired by their stories, how they were taking over dad or uncle or family business, and really working to grow it to a more successful entity or to sustain it. It was really exciting. When I got to work with them, and then to see that there was this need, and then to kind of take practically an approach, just figure out how to solve that made through a business plan and putting together a model for membership, it was just so really rewarding. To me, it’s been wonderful, and it’s so impactful to see the impact we’ve had on our members. We, as I mentioned, have many formal leadership programs. One of them is our Leadership Institute for Women in Manufacturing and STEM is the only of its kind in the country. We partner with Case Western Reserve University on the course. I was just recently reviewing our graduate list and roster of people that participated for the past five years and looking at their current title, and the title that they were at, and the company that they were at when they first started the program, I would say the majority of them are still with their current manufacturing company are still in manufacturing. I think, even more amazing and more emotional for me, is that the vast majority of them have been promoted. Some of them were at a manager level, a certain level when they first started the program. So many of them are Senior Vice Presidents, Presidents, they’re Senior Directors. Many of these women have just accomplished such great things. We hope that Women in Manufacturing, as an association has played a role in that, and has helped them to be even more successful and to have that peer community to support them. To me, that’s so very exciting and continues to excite me each day as we do our work.


Britt Erler

I mean, to see that progression, and to stick with these people all throughout the career, that is such a rewarding thing to see. I think a lot of organizations, people join, they’re with them for a little bit of time, and eventually, they move on, but to know that you still have members that still find joy, success, community within your organization throughout all the stages of their careers, is so incredible, and really a testament to you and what you built. Congratulations, I love to see that. Now, as a leader, and this goes for all industries, what motivates and inspires you?


Allison Grealis

I think seeing the impact that we’re having. I’m motivated by identifying a challenge or an opportunity, and then figure out a fix. How do we, if we see a challenge, or an area that really could use our help, creating that solution is really important to me and our team. As we look at the needs that our individual members have, and our corporate members have, often they’re the same, sometimes they’re different. Identifying that need, and coming up with a solution, and then, seeing that solution in action. Getting to see, for example, it’s the need. As we saw and we heard from our corporate members, they were having a real challenge as it related to developing their women in production. The women on the shop floor, they were having a real challenge with getting them to training, to really getting them excited about advancing in their careers. I’m really excited this fall to see this program in action that we’ve developed for women in production, and then to hopefully see, this five year trajectory or more of these women advancing within their current companies.


Britt Erler

Absolutely. Now, do you see this association expanding into other industries aside from manufacturing and production?


Allison Grealis

I think, presently, if you look at our mission, we are very solely focused on women in manufacturing careers, as well as we do work with the male allies that are, of course, supporters, sponsors, and endorsers of the women in manufacturing career. We’re open to both male and female members. I would say that what we have found is the power of collaboration and alliances. We work with lots of other associations that are maybe ancillary, or complementary to manufacturing. We work with lots of niche groups that maybe are different facets of manufacturing. Partnerships have been really powerful for us. I think, right now, we’re very focused on manufacturing. Of course, there’s different nuances to that. We dabble into technology, we dabble into other spaces. We hope to grow the organization so that perhaps even if we’re still focused just on manufacturing, we hope our footprint hugely grows over the next few years well beyond, obviously, as I mentioned, the US right now. Our chapters are US based, but we hope to have an international presence and chapters overseas very soon.


Britt Erler

Absolutely. I think the virtual aspect, as you mentioned, is so crucial in that, especially when you’re expanding internationally, and really connecting more people than we ever have been before. I think you’re probably in a very similar spot as we are, being an events company that used to be all in person summits and shows, we’ll probably always keep this virtual option as well, because we’ve realized, we can reach so many more people than we could before. Really incredible what you’ve been able to do. Now, this may be too early to tell, obviously, there’s a lot of shifts that we are expecting to see in the coming year. But what trends do you foresee for Women in Manufacturing into 2021 and even into 2022?


Allison Grealis

I think the trends that we see for our members is that technology and automation are going to continue to play a very important role in how we do work, how we do our daily kind of routine and our jobs. I think, also, how we build customer relationships, how we build new business opportunities, I think technology and automation were quickly adapted to by companies that maybe even those who are laggards and not necessarily on board with adaptation to these new tools and technology. I think that’s going to continue to be very, very important. I think you’re gonna see the rapid growth of even more tools that companies and individuals can use to be successful in their jobs. We also think that there’s definitely going to be an impact for the next year or so on how business is done. Similarly, as you spoke about delivering live conferences and events, we’re quickly pivoting to figure out how do we have even more on demand tools and resources for our members and our companies knowing that it might be a while before we see many of them in person. I think industry wise, we just have to change the way that we deliver value and deliver services. I think that same resonates with our individual met manufacturing member companies, they’re reevaluating their business models as well.


Britt Erler

Now, how do you overcome differences in how companies are run, for example? Obviously, the strategies are the same, and how you’re trying to develop women across the board, but a lot of companies run differently. How do you overcome these challenges? How do you show women how to work their wave in these certain companies, based on what you’ve seen in your experience?


Allison Grealis

We tried to share best practices. I think we’re connected, presently, so close to 1300 different unique manufacturing companies. They’re all different sizes, they’re all structured very uniquely, and they all have varying amounts of resources. We know not other one is going to have huge diversity and inclusion departments, not every company is going to have layered employee resource groups. We try to share best practices from one company to another. We do so often in our Summer Leadership Conference, which is where our corporate members have the exclusive opportunity to do case studies, to present to one another, to do white papers. What we’re hoping to do and accomplish here that is to at least maybe if not the entire program service, or the delivery can be replicated, perhaps at least parts of the process can be replicated, depending on the company size and scope. We know that not everything is going to apply because all companies, as you mentioned, are very are designed differently. The goal is that there are different nuggets and takeaways from all of these kind of sharing exercises, and these studies into this research in this field about these best practices that we’re sharing, that companies can apply these pieces and parts to their organization. We recently did a study on diversity, equity, and inclusion within the manufacturing industry. We had record number of respondents. The goal there was for companies to benchmark to be able to say, okay, here are the resources that I offer my employees. Here’s where there seems to be the hugest level and layers of interest. Then, they could adapt and adjust accordingly to figure out how do they get to maybe best in class, or how do they improve to what are the current norms and needs that employees have, for example, as they go to an employee of choice.


Britt Erler

I think that’s great, because a lot of companies may not realize that they are lacking in diversity, equity, and inclusion, as you mentioned. Being able to have a benchmark for them to compare themselves to other companies is fantastic. That way, they can make the changes and shifts that they need to really start that journey. Any other final pieces of advice that you have for women in manufacturing, and even just leaders in general that are in a similar position as yourself?


Allison Grealis

I would say that, and I would encourage manufacturing leaders who watched this are a part of your conference, that if they don’t know of us as an association, we would love to get to know them. We are always looking for companies to partner with. Our goal is not to replicate what’s already being done really successfully at an individual manufacturing company. We know some companies have amazing leadership academies, and they have great development programs. We really do see that value of complementing those programs that are often already existing in companies, and then as well providing that external network. It’s great for individuals to have programs internally with mentoring, with leadership academies. There’s also great value to benchmark and to externally network outside of your own four walls, your facility, so that you can see what other innovative things are being done by companies. Our goal is to help facilitate that. We encourage companies to connect with us to get to know us, to encourage their female talent and male talent to start participating with our organization. Those would be my words of wisdom.


Britt Erler

Fantastic. Alison, thank you so much. Those are some incredible insights. I love the community that you have created. I think a lot of women that will be joining this summit today, and men as well, will be really interested to get involved, and really see what they can do to help, and network with others such as yourself. Thank you again so much for the insight. Thank you to everyone who joined us as well. There will be a discussion forum underneath this presentation if you have any questions for Allison at all. Please go ahead and comment, and she’ll be checking in throughout the week. Thank you again, everyone. Please enjoy the rest of the summit. Stay safe and stay healthy.


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