Even as a child, Danielle Schneider knew she would probably be involved in the manufacturing industry.
Starting at around 13 years old, she began to feel drawn to a career as an engineer. Eleven years ago, she realized her dream when Intertek, an inspection, product testing and certification company, brought her on “to break stuff for a living.”
While she planned to avoid going into the automotive industry like so many of her peers, the pull eventually proved too enticing to pass up.
“I wanted to make products or gadgets that would make people’s lives easier, but one day my friend called and asked if I wanted to be on a research and development team,” said Schneider, who now works as an applications engineer at Pridgeon & Clay Inc., a Grand Rapids-based metal stamping manufacturer. “I was hooked. It gave me a creative outlet, and ever since then, I’ve been helping my customers in the auto industry to make their products better, more efficient, and more cost-effective.”
These days, women make up about 30 percent of the manufacturing workforce nationally and about 34 percent in Grand Rapids, which Schneider aims to improve by serving on the national board of Women in Manufacturing and on the organization’s Western Michigan chapter.
She’s also moderating a panel on the topic of women in manufacturing as part of the 2022 Advanced Manufacturing Expo, scheduled for Aug. 11-12 at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids.
Schneider recently spoke with MiBiz about her experiences and women’s representation in the manufacturing industry.
Tell me about Women in Manufacturing and what it offers.
The reason I got involved with Women in Manufacturing, or WiM, is that it exists to provide insight, collaboration and efforts to increase the number of women leaders in manufacturing. We provide networking, personal development programs, best practices and resource sharing in our networking groups. We also have an education foundation that offers programs such as Management Development Programming, Leadership Institute, and — my new favorite one — Empowering Women in Production, which gives the women that are actually on the production line that next push to realize their potential and take that next step in their career.
What are the typical barriers women face in manufacturing?
My personal challenge is being the only woman in the room when you walk in. It’s a little intimidating sometimes, but after 11 years, you just get over it. Also, I doubt myself sometimes about if I have the knowledge 100 percent to do the next job. I also look very young for my age and my experience. Looking that way, you get labeled as though you don’t know what you’re talking about. With groups like WiM, we have an outlet to go to. I feel supported and inspired to take on that challenge or to be given the advice to overcome an issue or a conflict.
Why is now a good time for women to consider careers in manufacturing?
The improvements in technology mean that it’s more about brains than brawn. It used to be that in manufacturing, you needed to be a big, burly man to do it. Now with all this technology that’s out there and available to us, you have to think about how you’re going to run things versus actually physically doing them. There is a strong correlation between what women want in their careers — we want challenging jobs with good opportunities for advancement — and what modern manufacturing offers.
What can manufacturing companies do to increase opportunities for women?
Develop and design a culture that’s inclusive of all people: not just men, male or female, but everyone involved. And, this one is always a hard one: Create a more family-oriented schedule, if possible. That is a big hurdle. With family schedules with pick-ups and drop-offs, it is a stereotypical role of the mother to do those things. If we can be a little more flexible with scheduling, I think there would be more women that would want to be involved in manufacturing.
Where should they start that journey?
A good opportunity for most employers is volunteering at schools, not just high schools but elementary and middle schools, to show the next generation what manufacturing is all about and hook them from an early age. … Showing the next generation is where I think we will make a difference in moving the needle with representation.
What advice would you give to women who aspire to leadership in manufacturing?
Just keep swimming. Invest in yourself. Hype yourself up. It’s OK to be a little braggy because if you are not doing it and not proud of yourself, how is anybody else going to know? Don’t be shy about it, either. If you do something great and you’re super passionate about it, celebrate it.
Help others to show them that you care and get to know them. People want a leader, not a manager. No one can be a great leader unless you genuinely care about people and the success of everyone on your team.
— Interview conducted and condensed by Elyse Wild.