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Women forging their way in manufacturing

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Women aren’t just growing in numbers on the manufacturing floor in South Carolina, but in the executive suites as well.

Women made up nearly one-third of the manufacturing industry workforce in the United States in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The national trade organization Women in Manufacturing reports women play a number of roles in manufacturing, from working on the production line to running their own manufacturing businesses.

Three Upstate manufacturing executives talked about their experiences during the S.C. Manufacturing Conference and Expo. Pamela Evette, owner and CEO of Quality Business Solutions, Sherry McCraw, vice president of assembly for BMW Manufacturing, and Paige Simpson, logistics manager for Itron, participated in a panel discussion about women in manufacturing.

“I work in Germany a lot and we are so many decades ahead of the women there and I know they have a harder time getting women into the workplace and into STEM jobs and the things that are typically considered men or male-oriented jobs,” McCraw said. “It’s really interesting for me to sit back and watch, because I feel like we’re a little bit petty in the United States about women not being considered equal. When I look around my office I see women in all types of leadership positions.”

Equality in manufacturing is also seen in pay and benefits, according to the panelists.

“Itron has pay scales assigned to job description. And when it comes to merit, that is based on objectives and performance, and those things are discussed at review time,” Simpson said.

Evette said QBS doesn’t look at gender, but “at the job you’re performing and what you give to that position. And as we do increases, they’re really based on what you give to the company and not what gender you are.

“I am seeing different things when it comes time for review,” Evette said. “Women want different things in their increase package. They want more time off and would pass on a wage increase for time off. I think that’s kind of a personal thing we’re seeing now across the board with men and women. I believe it’s valid when people talk about pay disparities between men and women, but I think that’s getting harder and harder to measure because people are now asking for different things.”

McCraw said BMW has a “structured pay scale” that is not based on gender. She said “it’s about hard work. It’s about who dedicated themselves more to the cause.”

“I don’t think there’s really any discrimination in manufacturing,” McCraw said. “If you’re willing to work, if you’re willing to work 60 hours, you’re welcome in manufacturing. You should feel proud of that in the United States. I can only imagine in 10 more years that there will be even more women in high level positions.”

Getting women to that level requires starting them in STEM fields at an early age.

Itron has a co-op program with Clemson University and we have engineering co-ops, marketing co-ops, IT co-ops … and I’ve seen more women coming into the factories and helping with the organization and flow of materials,” Simpson said. “I think it starts in your schools and as your businesses continue to support STEM I would think you would see girls and young ladies want to be involved in more engineering programs.”

Evette said the state’s technical college system is like none other and that families need to embrace that.

Years ago, we were not encouraging children to get into manufacturing — it had to be a four-year degree and profession,” she said. “Now the mindset is changing as we’re evolving. These are great, high-paying, very clean jobs. It’s not the manufacturing environment my grandparents saw when they migrated here.”

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 864-720-1223.

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