Women Leaders in Advanced Manufacturing: There is a Place for Us

REMAP Founder & CEO Irene Sterian shares strategies for women with big aspirations in the manufacturing space

Women have an important role to play in the future of manufacturing in Canada – where the number of job vacancies exceeds our pool of skilled talent. And yet, despite making up 48% of Canada's total workforce and an increasing number of STEM graduates, women only make up 29% of the manufacturing sector. Significantly fewer hold leadership positions. And a great many are simply stuck somewhere in the middle.

While industry and government are rapidly introducing initiatives such as Canada’s progressive Women Entrepreneurship Strategy and other programs to boost representation and economic growth by harnessing the talents and leadership skills of women, there are also things we can do as individuals to boost our own career development and success.

Looking back, I know I can accomplish a lot more as a leader, than as an individual contributor. In fact, women are natural leaders and team builders.

After a great deal of hard work, lifelong learning and a commitment to continually driving value in the advanced manufacturing sector, I achieved many of my early career goals – and some meaningful new ones as well. This includes my current venture as Founder and CEO of REMAP – a women-led $42M not-for-profit technology and innovation accelerator that engages 800+ public and private stakeholder members to boost Canada’s manufacturing ecosystem.

Getting here required some creative, out-of-the-box strategies to keep up the momentum of my career development and progression. So when I was asked to participate as a keynote speaker at the ADVANCE: Women in Manufacturing 2022 virtual summit in March, I jumped at the opportunity to tell my story, and to share some of the strategies I have employed to avoid getting ‘stuck in the middle’ within Canada’s manufacturing industry.

I have highlighted these strategies below – in the hopes that you too can find your ‘place’ in Canada’s manufacturing sector.

Stuck in the middle? Startegies for Advancement of Women in Advanced Manufacturing

1. Choose the path you want

I knew I wanted to make things -  working in manufacturing where I could physically see my product. I didn't listen to people who insisted manufacturing was an unconventional career for women.

Not the path you think you should want. Not a path chosen by others. Envision your dream job in 10 years – don’t be afraid to think beyond the ‘logical’ next step in your career - where can you drive value today?

2. Leverage company programs for women

Many companies today offer specialized programs focused on advancing and supporting women in their careers – such as mentorship and leadership development. If they don’t, why not bring the idea to the table? Smart companies know that nurturing tomorrow’s diverse and capable leaders is a win-win for everyone.

3. Ask for big jobs early in your career

I asked to lead my first big project installing $3M in manufacturing line - sourcing equipment from Japan for the Canadian operations.

Ask to be involved in leading big projects – including those that are challenging or outside your current responsibilities and scope. It demonstrates a willingness to apply your creativity and skills in new ways, and gives you an opportunity to showcase and hone your knowledge and leadership skills.

4.  Take the leap

My support network pushed me to apply for my first management role. I didn't think I was qualified until management surveys showed I was in the top 10% at my company. This gave me confidence to apply for the job, and later in my career, Director and Board of Directors roles.

5. Start small, think big, create value

I started small with REMAP - but kept my dreams big as we built up Canada's first manufacturing cluster. Today it spans 800+ members and $42M in government and industry co-funding.