“You can’t be what you can’t see.” You’ve probably heard that statement before. Whether you agree or not with Marie C. Wilson, I think we can all recognize that “If you can see her, you can be her”. I grew up with my parents telling me that ‘anything one person can do, good or bad, another human being is capable of accomplishing the same’. Meaning, I can do it too, good or bad. So, if I wanted to become an astronaut, like Sally Ride or Valentina Tereshkova, in theory, there shouldn’t be any reason I couldn’t do that.

It’s one thing for your parents to tell you this, but it’s another thing to actually experience it firsthand. In August 1996, I turned 8 and witnessed Claudie Haigneré become the very first French female astronaut to journey into space. And that was it. My parents were right; yes, if I wanted to, I could become an astronaut. I too could go to space. I never did, of course, because I never truly wanted to become one, but the concept still applies to women everywhere. 

Why am I sharing the story about me not becoming an astronaut?

Because today, we are facing a widening skills gap especially, in the United States and Europe. If not solved, manufacturers may strain their workers, resulting in higher turnover, lower-quality output, and potentially loss in profit causing them to lose their competitive edge, which affects local economies. Deloitte estimates put the labor shortage at potentially 2.8 million by 2028. Time is ticking, the current workforce is aging, and there aren’t enough qualified applicants to replace them. And whenever there’s an economic crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic we’re currently facing, manufacturers and their workforce suffer in large numbers, and that is terrifying. 

Everything around us heavily relies on the usage of hardware. From the smartphones in our hands to the shoes on our feet, to theLyft rides getting us from A to Z. Our constant demand for personalized experiences, and new and improved products requires manufacturing advancements for our ability to exist in modern society and improve our overall quality of life. The workforce and industry demands are there, yet the worker shortage still exists. 

There are a few ways to look at this problem: reduce the number of employees required to operate on-site by way of automation, or hire more people. However, even the implementation of automation requires skilled labor. Engineers, operators, programmers: they’re all still completely necessary.

So how do we fix it? How do we inspire our workforce to pursue careers in manufacturing? According to Deloitte, in 2016, women totaled about 47% of the US labor force — but only accounted for 29% of the manufacturing workforce. Moreover, one of the largest challenges to the Additive Manufacturing industry is the lack of skilled workers to drive technology adoption. Importantly, estimates point to women comprising a notable minority of the 3D printing workforce. Women only account for barely 11% of women in the additive manufacturing workforce according to this year’s Sculpteo State of 3D Printing report. Such findings are mirrored throughout the additive manufacturing industry, with Alexander Daniels Global’s Salary Survey indicating just 13% women in this workforce.

We have been working on understanding such figures through our own Diversity for Additive Manufacturing reports. Data collected from such industry studies have informed our understanding of what’s needed. We continue to work with companies in this industry toward actionable steps forward to a more equitable future, but it remains a long road ahead.

These statistics have only seen marginal changes within the past decade and only an 8% increase in the last 100 years. So why is female participation in manufacturing growing at such an embarrassingly low rate? Why aren’t we looking towards women to fill these workforce gaps? From the way I see things, it’s because society is failing to inspire young women and build an inclusive environment for them. 

The Women in Manufacturing annual survey found that only 7% of respondents indicated manufacturing as an industry that offers opportunities for women. 68% of respondents said they were unlikely to pursue manufacturing in their careers. And between us, it doesn’t make sense. Manufacturing offers so many opportunities for career advancements with competitive and attractive compensation. It encompasses creative and challenging work that has world-changing impacts on the way we live our lives. Our world needs more individuals to be inspired about achieving engineering marvels; to know they can exist, to dream, to take action, and to pursue what may seem unattainable. Inspiring female participation seems like the easiest solution to this century-old problem. 

Seeing women accomplish great things and participate in these industries is what helps inspire young women, including myself, to participate in this journey. We need strong role models and pioneers who are willing to prove what’s possible, like astronaut Claudie Haigneré. We need to celebrate their successes and talk about them with our children and colleagues. We need to have those conversations to remind young people everywhere that there is a world of possibilities and that it includes manufacturing. 

But the reality is, the lasting impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic are not helping to make this talent shortage crisis any better. Let’s be real, we’re talking about manufacturing here. This is where folks are designing, iterating, and making things. Physical things that require machine operation. Unfortunately, this can’t always be done working from home, and it’s definitely hard to remotely train a workforce in new skills required for machine operation. This may not be true for all of Additive Manufacturing — some of us are lucky enough to have strong digital manufacturing supply chains that require incredibly minimal in-person work – however, technicians, engineers, and often designers still need to access their equipment, labs, and factories.

How do we encourage a generational shift? 

A survey conducted by Microsoft in Europe found that young girls gain interest in STEM/STEAM around grade 6, at the age of 11. They often lose interest by age 15 (grade 10). This is a very small window to get girls excited about math and science, which is very unfortunate. It didn’t surprise me that the lack of female role models, hands-on experience with technology, and mentorship were key reasons as to why this may have demotivated girls to remain. 

As I mentioned earlier, “If you can see her, you can be her.”

We all have a responsibility to encourage girls when they are inspired by math and science, when they are pursuing education in STEAM fields and when they are launching their careers. We have a responsibility as a community to fuel their inspiration for what is possible with technology and provide a supportive network. 

How We’re Making a Difference

Over the last 6 years, I’ve developed a network of amazing women and men encouraging and celebrating women’s success and journeys into additive manufacturing. We took a big step this year in restructuring the Women in 3D Printing organization by expanding our Board of Directors and introducing Regional Chairs. I realized that in order to pursue our mission at scale, we needed a systemic approach to support our local and digital leaders so that they can make a true impact. 

Here are some of the programs we’ve developed to put our words into action:

Women in 3D Printing Chapters

Wi3DP Chapter Leaders across the world are organizing local speaking and networking events to build a supportive network catered for women paving their way in manufacturing. To date, I’m proud to say that we have over 22,895 professionals and counting across 73 chapters in 32 countries led by 77 inspiring women and men across the world.

Wi3DP Virtual Panel Series 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we quickly realized that in-person meetings, as originally powered by local Wi3DP Chapter Leaders, are not currently possible.Women no longer had a means to connect face-to-face, share their experiences and support each other like we normally do. We were fortunate enough to have AM-Cubed organize a virtual panel series, and partners to support digital monthly events from organizations including Link3D, HP, and AlphaStar.Together, we brought together a host of industry-leading women from GE, Boeing, Carbon, DSM, Stryker, HP, Ford and the likes to share their additive manufacturing expertise. Encouraging and supporting the community on their 3D printing journey!

Wi3DP Regional Happy Hours

We were also able to highlight women with AM careers, provide mentorship and workshops through regional quarterly happy hours led by Wi3DP Regional Chairs This helped bridge women across time zones to connect, share their experiences and support each other’s growth. 

TIPE 3D Printing Conference (Save the date for January 27-28, 2021)

Over the last year, we’ve interviewed over a hundred insightful women. Our team quickly realized we must do more to give women a spotlight to share their work and achievements. That is why we planned to launch the TIPE 3D Printing Conference, which was originally planned to be an in-person event to bring our global community together for the first time in history. With all that’s been going on with the pandemic, we decided to go virtual, so mark your calendar for January 27-28, 2021, the first all-female lineup of speakers at our very first TIPE 3D Printing Conference. This will highlight four primary tracks: Technology, Industry, People and Economics. 

Knowing the importance of supporting youth to close the talent gap, we also decided to form a Youth team this year to develop a strategy to support the next generation of girls. That’s why, we’re adding a fifth track to highlight ‘Youth’.

Wi3DP NextGEN

Knowing that 2028 is less than a decade away, we’ve created a strategic initiative to reduce the ‘talent and gender gap’ that exists today. We need to create a scalable infrastructure that can help inspire girls while they are young, and keep them encouraged as they venture into school, and inspire them as they start their careers. I welcome you to Wi3DP NextGen.

With a team of 15 volunteers, we’re developing programs that can educate, inspire and provide mentorship to girls. Although we’re still small in size today, we’re excited to develop and launch insightful information to help women young and seasoned to learn about possible career tracks through AMA Careers and Career Cards. We’re going to host workshops to provide virtual networking opportunities for students to meet professionals across the industry — helping them get a foot in the door. We’ll be working with brands to promote and develop internship and co-op programs to enable workforce development initiatives so budding professionals can get hands-on experience. 

Lastly, we must not forget about our educators, teachers, and parents who are investing their time and effort to integrate technology into their courses, supporting after school programs, or designing creative activities at home to support their kids. That is why it will also be important to provide workshops and a supportive network for educators to get the tools they need. 

Last Remarks

They say, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ but it only ‘takes one person to make a difference’. We need to be the change we want to see in the world. So, as we reflect on the end of the year, and ponder on what 2021 will bring, I encourage you to think of one action you can do to help spark a little something in a girl or woman’s life that can fuel her energy to remain and thrive within manufacturing, because we all need her. 


This article is co-authored by Nora Toure, Janet Kar, Haleyanne Freedman, and Sarah Goehrke. 

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