Women in manufacturing: challenging the stereotype

Women in manufacturing may seem taboo, but can women do the hard yards and lift heavy machinery when needed? More associations are jumping on the band wagon to attract women to the industry, Margaret Tra writes.

WOMEN in manufacturing may seem taboo, but can women do the hard yards and lift heavy machinery when needed?

Events such as the International Conference for Women Engineers and Scientists (INWES), and awards programs from the MSA 2011 Women at Work – Making a Difference study, are enticing women to do just that. 

The INWES conference, co-hosted by the National Committee for Women in Engineering, Engineers Australia (EA), has been held every three years since 1964. This year will represent the first time it has been hosted in the southern hemisphere – last time it was held in France. 

Marlene Kanga, co-chair for the INWES and national councillor for Engineers Australia, said the aim of the conference is to show that women can be great scientists and engineers. 

"Part of our strategy is to challenge the stereotype," Kanga told Manufacturers’ Monthly. 

The conference has the theme ‘Leadership, innovation, sustainability’, and will showcase female leaders of science and engineering organisations from Australia and around the world. 

"It’s not only about women. It’s just good to know the work they do speaks for themselves," said Kanga. 

"Women engineers currently represent less than 10% of the engineering workforce in Australia, which is one of the lowest participation rates of women across all professions. 

"The conference will provide women in the engineering and scientific professions with a rare opportunity to meet and listen to many Australian and international leaders in women scientists and engineers and be inspired by their leadership journeys, their innovations and their recommendations for a sustainable future."

As a chemical scientist with over 25 years’ experience, Kanga entered the industry due to her passion for chemistry and maths. 

"I think a lot of people don’t know that science can be creative," she said. 

The International Conference for Women Engineers and Scientists recognises the need to support women in their careers, providing additional opportunities for professional development with a large number of technical sessions on a range of subjects.

The Future Minds Expo, a program offered at INWES, provided high school students from around Adelaide with an opportunity to meet women engineers and scientists and discuss their career options. 

"This is consistent with the strategy of ‘attracting’ women to science and engineering," said Kanga. 

Another program designed to attract women to the industry is Manufacturing Skills Australia’s (MSA) 2011 Women at Work – Making a Difference study award, which allows women to share their success stories and be acknowledged for their achievements. 

The chief executive officer of MSA, Bob Paton, said last year was the first year for the awards and it received a range of high-quality applicants. 

"The issue with women in manufacturing is that jobs aren’t appealing; they are physically demanding and can put women off," said Paton.

MSA is hoping to attract more women to the manufacturing industry through this award, which includes $5,000 towards the winner’s training course. 

Image: Marlene Kanga is the co-chair of INWES, and has over 25 years experience in the industry.

 

 

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