Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Advance: Women in Manufacturing – An engaging day of crucial conversations


March 29, 2022  by Madalene Arias


In 2022 as geopolitical conflicts bring further disruption to already strained supply chains and different sectors try to push forward despite labour shortages, women of all cultural backgrounds continue to be underrepresented in one of Canada’s most critical sectors – manufacturing.

The shutdown of several workspaces, educational institutions and childcare facilities due to coronavirus heightened the visibility of gender inequalities as many women were left to take on the bulk of domestic duties while fulfilling the responsibilities of their professions.

To take a closer look at how these barriers have continued to present themselves in the lives of women and discuss viable solutions, nearly 300 people registered for Advance: Women in Manufacturing 2022 to hear from leaders in manufacturing about the actions stakeholders can take to create more diverse and inclusive workspaces at all levels.

Conference opens

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Manufacturing AUTOMATION editor Sukanya Ray Ghosh and PrintAction and Food in Canada editor Nithya Caleb hosted the virtual gathering. Ray Ghosh commenced the afternoon with a land acknowledgement. Caleb thanked the gold sponsors for the event, Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium, Salesforce, Build a Dream, Ernst & Young, Ipex by Aliaxis, Invest Buffalo Niagara, Nilfisk, Jeld-Wen in the gold category; silver sponsor Frank by Ostaco and bronze sponsor Dynamic Source Manufacturing.

Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth representing Toronto, gave all attendants a warm greeting from her office in Ottawa. In her address to those present, she spoke of Canada’s diverse population and the importance of ensuring that the country’s workforce reflects this diversity.

“By sharing advice and real-life experiences, you are helping others to reach their highest potential. You’re empowering women to reach for leadership roles for the benefit of your industry and everyone in Canada,” said Ien.

Parliamentary Secretary Jenna Sudds then shared some statistics on the virtual stage, outlining the way women are employed across Canada.

Women account for 54 percent of the country’s caregivers, taking on unpaid care work at home. They are also more likely to perform part-time or temporary jobs. In 2019, women represented only seven percent of skilled trade workers, 24 percent of science and technology workers, and 28 percent of manufacturing workers in Canada.

“As we work to build back our economy, we cannot afford to lose a single drop of talent. We can only afford to grow our economy, and women have such an important role to play in that growth,” said Sudds.

Keynote: Impacts of COVID, barriers to the workforce and new opportunities

The audience then lent its attention to their keynote speaker Pamela Jeffrey, an inclusion and diversity expert who founded the Prosperity Project and has operated the Women’s Executive Network for two decades.

Back in 2020, Jeffrey found herself recovering from COVID-19 after a trip to Costa Rica. She told the audience how she sat in her basement with thoughts of the novel virus and how it would have a devastating impact on women.

It was here that Jeffrey put together ideas that gave way to the Prosperity Project, an organization that links women to prosperity through various initiatives. The organization’s methods for connecting women to career opportunities in which they can thrive are designed to specifically address the barriers women face in the workforce and in their personal lives.

As Jeffrey stated, such barriers to career opportunities include lack of awareness of training and existing job opportunities, limited access to role models and mentors, lack of partner support at home, barriers to affordable childcare, and having to do more housework at home.

Like Sudds, Jeffrey noted that COVID-19 left many women shouldering a larger share of domestic responsibilities like homeschooling and caring for ageing parents, but this was only one among several impacts on women.

According to data found by the Prosperity Project’s Canadian Households Perspective Research Initiative in 2021, women were more likely to feel depressed, anxious and stressed. Research also showed that 44 percent of women reported feeling that COVID-19 would bring an economic recession and leave them without job prospects.

Through other research and surveys, the Prosperity Project found that 20 per cent of mothers are more likely to work part-time or reduced hours or quit their jobs altogether. Comparatively, visible minority women were more likely to leave their jobs behind completely.

The Prosperity Project launched the Rosie campaign to tackle limited access to mentors and role models along with a lack of awareness of job opportunities and training. The organization’s Matching Initiative has connected women with 100 different charities across the country where they’ve used the opportunity to volunteer their time to complete a project of interest to them.

In other research like the Prosperity Project’s Second Annual Report Card, they found that only 6.7 percent of racialized women occupy corporate leadership roles like executive officer or senior management roles even though racialized Canadians make up one-quarter of the national population. Indigenous women hold only 0.3 percent of these positions.

“COVID-19 has given us opportunities,” said Jeffrey.

“When women succeed, we all prosper. Now it’s up to each of you to take what has been a really challenging two years and use the resilience you have found in yourself, draw on the data we have gathered for you, and change the conversation.”

Discussing unconscious bias

Next up, three panellists came together for a discussion on ‘Making conscious the unconscious bias’ with Automate Canada and Canadian Association of Moldmakers president Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund serving as the moderator.

The leaders who took this opportunity to share their experiences were Jennifer Green, director of competitions at Skills Ontario, Nour Hachem-Fawaz, president and founder of Build a Dream, Maryam Emami, CEO at AI Materia.

A guest who sat in for this portion of the event later wrote to say that she has been in the electronic manufacturing sector since 1996, and many of the issues she has faced resembled those of the women who spoke in the panel.

Berglund tossed the first question to Emami who was asked to share her personal experience with biases in the manufacturing workplace.

Emami, an engineer and researcher, began by saying that it is easier to identify the biases of others than it is to identify those within ourselves. She added that only 13 percent of Canadian engineers are women, and this number was much smaller when she started her career.

“It is no secret that even today when you walk into an engineering firm, the place is not usually full of women,” said Emami.

The AI Materia CEO went on to describe how she has been the only woman present in meetings of 15 men or the only woman among dozens of men on the production floor. In such environments, it has become difficult for her to build trust among her coworkers especially while holding a higher position.

Emami also wanted her audience to understand that while engineering and manufacturing are male-dominated, there is nothing about engineering and manufacturing that is inherently “male.” This is a field where women can be just as successful if not more.

Berglund took her next question to Hachem-Fawaz which focused on how often she heard from women and racialized women who encountered biases in their work environments and whether these issues are ever resolved.

Haschem-Fawaz explained that while many companies declare an interest in becoming more inclusive and diverse, many of them lack effective strategies to follow through with these statements.

“Diversity is the what and inclusion is the how,” said Hachem-Fawaz.

As an example, she described her dealings with a company that said it wanted to recruit more women. Later on, in their recruitment process, it came to light that this company lacked female facilities and policies and procedures to deal with harassment.

“This conversation prompted us to ensure that we’re not only recruiting women into the sectors, but also addressing these unconscious biases that companies have that are limiting people’s ability to enter this workforce or even advance,” she said.

In another example from Hachem-Fawaz a woman heard one of her male colleagues declare that “women belong in the kitchen.”

Upper management did take the time to help him understand why his comments were sexist and discriminatory according to Hachem-Fawaz.

“So the barriers are still there. How we’re approaching them is shifting, but there’s still so much work to be done.”

Berglund turned the third question over to Jennifer Green, a mechanic and millwright who launched her career at age 16.

“If it happened, you name it, I went through it,” said Green responding to Berglund who asked how things have changed since she began her work in skilled trades 20 years ago.

Green added that even though there are more women support groups today than there were in previous decades, the treatment of women on sites and factories needs a lot of improvement.

The lack of female facilities alone represents a significant disadvantage according to Green, who also mentioned the absence of female change rooms as a common complaint shared in social media forums for women in the Canadian manufacturing sector.

“If there is no facility for a woman, then they’re having to change their schedule, maybe walk an extra 10 minutes, maybe lose some of their lunch,” said Green, adding that companies should create female facilities well-ahead of recruiting more women.

Berglund moved ahead with the discussion to include methods to address biases and microaggressions before taking questions from the audience.

Building your own board of directors with Crystal Hyde

The founder of Propel Communications Coaching and Consulting, Crystal Hyde, guided attendees through a workshop on building their own board of directors, a section of the virtual event that resonated with several participants.

“I enjoyed the panel discussions very much because it was good to hear from so many different people with different experiences and viewpoints but I probably enjoyed the “Build your own personal board of directors” most because that gave some concrete actionable items to start thinking of and working with,” read a message from one guest following the virtual event.

Hyde mentioned that women experience imposter syndrome more often than men and feel the need to continually earn their positions within a company even after they have landed a role and in her words are, “probably over earning it.”

Building a personal board of directors is about establishing support that will help move a person’s career forward in the direction that they want. Hyde said people tend to leave their career paths to their managers.

“What our interests are and what we think we can handle, that’s our responsibility to communicate,” said Hyde.

Since managers are not mind-readers she added, people must be overt about where they want to go in their professions.

Those seeking to build their own board of directors should make efforts to draw in a diverse set of skills, experiences, backgrounds and genders among the people they elect in order to generate the best possible advice from the board.

“Here’s the thing with advice that I want you all to keep really close to your heart when you’re soliciting advice from people,” said Hyde.

“You can listen to advice, you can solicit advice, you can welcome advice, and you can offer advice, and you do not have to take it.”

As she later explained, advice is about helping people make more informed decisions and not the decision itself.

Difficulties in moving up the ladder

Jennefer Griffith shares her insights during the final panel discussion.

For the final session of the day, Caleb invited a group of panellists to dive deeper into the reasons behind the deficient representation of women in executive roles.

Irene Sterian, founder, president and CEO at REMAP and director of technology and innovation at Celestica, recalled a time in her life when she wanted nothing more than to be an engineer. Over time, she realized she wanted to do more and could do so in a position where people reported back to her.

“I wanted to be a manager, but I had never really applied to be a manager,” said Sterian.

A friend encouraged her to apply for the next management role that became available. She credits her friend’s enthusiasm and “push” for the start of her career in a leadership position.

Sterian’s message to women in manufacturing is to apply for roles even if they do not feel qualified for them.

Jennefer Griffith, executive director at Food Processing Skills Canada began her career in an administrative role where many opportunities were. She wrote proposals to the government and participated in projects right from the beginning through to fruition.

Griffith noted however, that her predecessor was a woman in a male-dominated industry.

“I think she took a lot of the brunt and the hits,” said Griffith. “Attending meetings where it’s male-dominated. It’s not very diverse. There are those trying to tear you down, you have those trying to take your job and so forth.”

Her approach was to learn from those above her and build genuine relationships with them in order to move up into a leadership position.

For Renn Scott MA, founder and chief designer at Daily Goods Design,the success of women correlates with the existence of strategies to empower women in their workspaces. She added that an important component to the success of DE&I strategies is to ensure corporate leadership teams are truly committed to them.

“In the case of those on the call that are senior leaders, we need to hold ourselves accountable for setting up and making progress on diversity goals.”

Closing an eventful day

Before closing the event, Ray Ghosh thanked all presenters for their insights and advice and invited all guests to visit womenincanadianmanufacturing.com for news, in-depth features, videos and podcasts covering women in the manufacturing industry and listen to the Advance: Women in Manufacturing podcast series.

The event was a great success, with constant engagement from the audience throughout. While the day ended on a high note, the crucial conversations that started during the event must continue in order to ensure a positive culture change in Canadian manufacturing.


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