Looking forward. Looking ahead.

Women leaders offer their takes on what’s ahead for women in manufacturing

Prairie Manufacturer Magazine is a proud supporter of the Women in Manufacturing initiative spearheaded by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. 

We believe that manufacturing – in all sectors – needs more women at every organizational level, and we aim to recognize and champion those companies and organizations working to advance women’s’ roles and positions in the industry.

While there have been great strides made by organizations and individuals across the sector and the region, there is still work to be done. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit women in industry especially hard, and we want to make sure this is only a short-lived statistical blip.

We asked two female leaders connected to Prairie manufacturing to share their takes on the current business environment and what their respective organizations have in store for the coming year.

Alison Kirkland Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada

This time last year, I was looking forward to the end of 2019. It had been a challenging year on several fronts and 2020, the start of a new decade, was a beacon of hope and excitement for me. 

In the decades to come, I expect we will look back on 2020 as a watershed. A global pandemic, racial unrest and a bitter US presidential election filled the headlines. It was a time to pause and reflect on where we had come from and where we are going. 

Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) is an association of organizations that work directly with women entrepreneurs. Our goal is to build connections, create a community and provide resources that will support the work that our members do to assist women who are starting and growing their businesses.

WEOC is in the midst of a national survey of women entrepreneurs. It is comprised of an online questionnaire along with one-on-one interviews with more than 20 women across the country. Some early results have been a bit surprising… the participants in the video interviews are incredibly optimistic about the future of their businesses. Many used the ‘pause’ in the early days of the pandemic to develop strategic plans, enhance their knowledge through a variety of learning options, explore new lines of business and integrate ecommerce. 

Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, I remain excited, optimistic and hopeful. The speed with which we all moved from in-person to online meetings was amazing. That was followed by virtual conferences and more learning options than we ever imagined. Technology enabled us to easily tap into new ideas and perspectives, grow our networks, and expand our reach – all so necessary for business growth and success. While it is still wonderful to meet in person, we are exploring how to ensure our virtual connections yield meaningful long-term relationships. Going forward, our goal is to build connectivity among the individuals and organizations supporting women entrepreneurs on their journey. 

While there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ woman entrepreneur, shared interests and experiences are strong foundations on which to build a community of women entrepreneurs. I have been so inspired by the communities of women we have met this year: Sedulous Women, Women in Manufacturing, Women in Mining, LIFT Circle, Canadian Small Business Women, and so many more. They are all doing amazing work and we look forward to being part of these communities and helping to build more communities in the women’s enterprise eco-system in the coming year.

It turns out that 2020 was a year of emotions: exciting, sad, inspiring, worrying and ultimately hopeful because women entrepreneurs and the organizations that support them have proven they are agile, adaptable and strong.

Carrie SchroederCME Manitoba

Building community is necessary to support people in all walks of life, and our focus is on women in manufacturing. We strongly believe the future of manufacturing lies with key ideas to drive innovation. These new ideas will be shaped by a diverse workforce, and a big part of this diversity will be women.

In 2017, only 28 per cent of manufacturing jobs were held by women in Canada – approximately 476,000 positions. By February 2020, this had grown to 512,500 positions in February, but that changed drastically come March.

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented layoffs, and women in manufacturing have been particularly impacted. In fact, nearly 60,000 women left the manufacturing industry across Canada for many reasons related to the pandemic, bringing us well below the 2017 figure. 

The pandemic has brought disruption, made us change the way we work, and the way we communicate, but it has also brought us opportunity: Opportunity to rethink, remould and reimagine.

In late September, the CME Manitoba team reached out to 44 people representing 29 manufacturing companies who participated to help define a path forward for the Women in Manufacturing initiative. With this input, a Shop Talk series has begun and is being delivered with a focus on operational skills development with presentations from company leaders and subject matter experts, virtual plant tours, discussions around best practices, and ample opportunity to network and build peer connections.

Our plans for 2021 include a symposium, Untapped Potential – Manufacturing Our Future (January 19-21, 2021). The WIM team is putting together a slate of interactive, uplifting, and timely topics – arranged in three themes: Strive, Drive, and Thrive! – aiming to remove barriers for women in manufacturing and provide personal and professional development.

For me, 2020 will always stand out as the year of disruption, and also the year I had to let go and trust that my team, my community, my network had my back. Perhaps this year is a challenge for all of us to take away: how do we manage through the disruption to come out stronger on the other side?

Looking ahead, I know that 2021 will provide plenty of opportunity, including the opportunity to build a strong community to support the recruitment and retention of women in manufacturing. Plus, an opportunity to build our manufacturing community even stronger than before through diversity.

I’ve got your back, and I know you’ll have mine.