Deb: I’m a woman in manufacturing, how do I move up?

Deb: I’m a woman in manufacturing, how do I move up?

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” an advice column from MxD.

Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

Please submit your questions to

How can a woman like me move up to become a leader in manufacturing?

Great question! And perfect timing. Factories need skilled workers big time. And that creates opportunity. Nothing says “leadership potential” like stepping up to take on more responsibility when the pressure’s on — and the pressure’s “up to 11” in our industry thanks to the supply chain mess that delayed my new Camaro. But I digress.

Take it from me, manufacturing has not always been the most woman-friendly profession. Even today, men make up more than 70 percent of the nearly 16 million of us folks working in manufacturing, according to U.S. Census figures. That means that even though the general U.S. workforce is nearly equally divided between men and women, only about 30 percent of manufacturing workers are women. Also, only one in four manufacturing leaders is a woman, according to a survey released late last year by Thomas, a product sourcing/supplier platform, and the Women in Manufacturing Association (WiM).

But all’s not lost. 

That same survey found that 62 percent of female respondents said they “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that over the last five years, women have made significant progress in manufacturing. And a majority of women and men working in manufacturing told researchers they are optimistic about the future of women in the industry. 

That’s good news. If we want to build the factories of the future we need the great ideas that come from a diverse workforce and diverse leadership. One study found that diverse teams make better decisions up to 87 percent of the time. 

That stat got a mention in the report on how Dow ranked No. 3 on the Fortune Best Workplaces in Manufacturing & Production™ 2021 list. According to that story, this was Dow’s first year on the list, and its commitment to diversity was one of the reasons it got there.

So, how do you climb the factory ladder? 

1. Get noticed. 

Let supervisors know you want to move up. Don’t wait to be tapped. Are there management positions you could step into now? If so, apply. And don’t be intimidated by job descriptions that are longer than a CVS receipt. You don’t need to tick every box; your competition sure won’t be able to. 

2. Get a mentor. 

That’s the advice from someone who actually has moved up to become a leader in manufacturing, Chandra Brown, CEO at MxD. She mentors several women and says: “As for climbing to the top, given the gender imbalance, I wouldn’t have gotten there without having men as champions. So I recommend that young women in any industry, not just in manufacturing, seek out men as well as women to promote them and their work.”

3. Get training. 

If you need to boost your skills to take on a leadership role, talk to your boss about finding ways to do that, like apprenticeships, that don’t involve any coin coming out of your pocket. 

4. Get ideas from others.

Women like Chandra who’ve made it to the top are great about sharing how they did it. Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA, had some helpful advice when she talked with the National Association of Manufacturers last year.  

5. Get inspired.

In early October, nine women were inducted into the Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame. That could be you someday. 

In a comment I can relate to, Chandra Brown said how, in the manufacturing world, she’s used to being the only woman in the room, but “having one woman in the room is simply not enough.” 

Amen to that. So you go, girl!

Check out the last Ask Deb here:
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Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ’em to and she’ll answer as soon as she’s done with her dinner.