Networking and leadership training aren’t just for white-collar workers — women in manufacturing need these opportunities too – The Globe and Mail | Region & Cash

Women make up just 28 percent of Canada’s manufacturing workforce, but leadership training and networking programs can help change the landscape.izusec

Wenyi He was just 26 years old when she was promoted to production manager at AGI Westfield, a Manitoba-based company that makes agricultural snails. When working in production, Ms. He is usually in the company of welders. About 70 percent of them are men – some more than twice her age.

“Ever since I was young and a woman, I’ve had a lot of challenges,” Ms. He recalls when she started the position last year. “They think, ‘You don’t know anything about them [manufacturing] Floor.'”

Last spring, Ms. He participated in a leadership development program run by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) where she acquired soft skills in communication, leadership and delegation. She says she’s learned that she can’t always offer solutions to the people she works with. “I want them to participate. We need to brainstorm together and solve the problem.”

She has already noticed a difference in her work, especially when it comes to streamlining production, which is an integral part of her work. “I talk to [the machine operators] very often and show them my passion for the work,” she says.

Creating opportunities for women to network

While leadership and networking programs for women in office workplaces have become common, there is a growing recognition that traditionally male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, construction and trades should also support women in finding leadership positions.

Although the leadership program that Ms. He attended was not exclusively for women, in July 2022, CME launched a Women in Manufacturing Leadership Development Program.

Angela Pappin, chief transformation officer at ArcelorMittal Dofasco in Hamilton, Ontario, and chair of the CME committee on women in manufacturing, says leadership programs help women build confidence to assert themselves in their roles. Women make up just 28 percent of Canada’s manufacturing workforce, and Ms Pappin says gender inequality is even more pronounced when it comes to managerial and executive positions. “My motivation for joining the [committee] saw the gender gap,” she says.

Networking has become a valuable part of Barb Willoughby’s leadership journey as a woman in manufacturing. Ms. Willoughby, operations manager at ATS Automation in Cambridge, Ontario, joined a peer council for women in manufacturing in 2019, just before the pandemic. She meets with about a dozen women from a variety of industries, from food processing to metal fabrication, every two months to share what they have learned.

“Having conversations about what processes and initiatives you’ve tried and learning from each other is one of the biggest benefits of the peer council,” she says. Through the council, she has also heard from guest speakers who discussed everything from health and safety practices to the impact of Canada’s current economic conditions on the manufacturing industry.

Ms. Willoughby is also grateful for her company’s Women’s Employee Resource Group (ERG), which was established in 2019. ERGs are one way manufacturing companies can encourage more women to seek leadership positions and support women already in management and leadership roles, she says.

“Creating this awareness that there are other women in our organization was important. It surprised me,” says Ms. Willoughby. “The humility of hearing their stories and seeking advice and asking, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ It was very inspiring.”

Why allies matter

Given that the manufacturing industry is predominantly male, particularly in managerial positions, Ms. Pappin recognizes the vital role male allies play in supporting women in the workplace. She says it was something that was important in her own career.

“There were men who gave me a seat at the table and included me,” she says. “They knew I had a voice to share my findings and insights, rather than someone else doing it for me.”

Ms Willoughby encourages men in her industry to think about how they can be better allies.

“Especially in manufacturing, men need to reach out to women to expand their networks and nurture them in their organizations,” she says. “Organizations really need to focus on what they can do differently to nurture and sponsor these women so they can get to the next level.”

Young women entering the manufacturing industry, as Ms. He did a few years ago, encourages them to be bold and bold.

“Don’t be afraid,” she says. “Talk, ask questions and act.”

Ask women and work

Do you have a question about your professional life? Email us at

Question: I keep getting passed over for new jobs or promotions at my place of work. What am I doing wrong? I’ve always gotten good performance reviews, but I feel like I’m missing a kind of “X-factor” that others have. It’s really killing me. What can I do to improve my career advancement opportunities?

We asked Humaira Ahmed, Founder and CEO of the talent development platform Locelle in Victoria, BC to set up this one:

Without much context, I’d recommend a few things if you’re being passed over for promotions:

1. Arrange a 1:1 meeting with your line manager and tell them your desire to be promoted. Share all your achievements and ask how they think you can level up. Be sure to bring a presentation during this meeting that highlights these achievements and achievements (especially where you took initiatives and/or led projects or teams). Be open and ask what you need to do or where you could improve to get ahead.

2. Find someone within the organization who is at the executive level and appears approachable regardless of department. Ask them for a coffee chat or a mentoring opportunity. Make your intentions clear and share that you would like to advance your career within the organization and that you admire how this person has done so. Most leaders will appreciate this and take the time and advice to move forward.

3. Reach out to experienced people (on LinkedIn) in this space to share your resume and ask for feedback. Sometimes it’s how a person is perceived, and other times there can be gaps in the way you communicate your accomplishments.

4. Work to build influence and thought leadership in this area. Offer to take initiatives, write a blog post, do pre-meeting research to provide insights, and lead projects. Show yourself, be confident and show yourself.

5. Make a plan. Most promotions and raises take time. Depending on your department and senior management, apply proactively before positions are posted. Tell hiring managers that you are interested in a progressive position and would like to be considered. Often people already do parts of the job they are applying for and take responsibility to show enthusiasm.

By presenting yourself consistently, receiving feedback on your resume and communications, practicing thought leadership building, and finding a mentor within and outside the organization, you can identify where the gaps are, or learn if this organization simply doesn’t have one is a good fit.

Interested in more perspectives on women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub hereand subscribe to the new Women and Work Newsletter here. Do you have any feedback on the series? Email us at

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