Canadian Manufacturing

Advance: Women in Manufacturing 2023 powering the journey of women

by Monica Ferguson   

Canadian Manufacturing
In-Depth Women in Manufacturing Public Sector Canada manufacturing industry strategies virtual summit women in manufacturing

The half-day virtual summit explored strategies to help women power their journey in Canada’s manufacturing industry.

Photo: Women in Manufacturing.

It is critical to continue chipping away at all the barriers preventing or discouraging women from entering Canada’s manufacturing industry. Annex Business Media’s manufacturing group returned with the third annual Advance: Women in Manufacturing virtual summit to facilitate conversations about breaking barriers, advancing women into positions of their choice, and embracing equity.

Over 300 people registered for the half-day event, which took place on March 2. The discussion centred around how the Canadian manufacturing industry is working to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workspace. Though there has been progress, there are many more milestones to achieve in embracing increased equity. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Powering the journey of women’ in Canadian manufacturing with concrete strategies and solutions.

Hosted by Nithya Caleb, editor of PrintAction and Food in Canada, and Sukanya Ray Ghosh, editor of Manufacturing AUTOMATION, the event featured experts working to create diverse and inclusive workspaces. Influencers in the Canadian manufacturing sector, as well as women who have trailblazed in their careers shared solutions, to overcome everyday challenges.

Opening remarks


Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, Jenna Sudds, provided a welcome greeting to attendees. She thanked the manufacturing group from Annex Business Media for providing a space for women to share their stories and experiences and learn from each other.

She shared that the manufacturing industry is currently undergoing a fundamental transformation, with rapid advances in technology and the merging of physical and digital manufacturing. At the same time, the Canadian manufacturing sector is facing a significant labour and skills shortage, with more than 80 per cent of manufactures reporting labour and skills shortages for two consecutive years. Women account for 48 per cent of the workforce but only 29 per cent of manufacturing workforce.

“My message to you is this, take risks, have confidence, keep learning and growing. Find the mentors and sponsors like those around you here today who have stood where you stand and can help you along the way, and if you get knocked down, have the courage to get back up. You not only belong here, but we need you here,” said Sudds.

Keynote — mentorship and sponsorship

Providing the keynote was Jo Ann Dizy, co-founder and CEO of #GrowTogether, a company that helps women learn, develop, and grow personally and professionally. Her keynote discussed the role of mentorship and sponsorship and how beneficial it can be in shaping a career.

She explained how one can find mentors and sponsors who can help women move the dial in starting or looking to advance their professions.

She delved into the difference between one-to-one mentorship and group mentorship and how to determine what might be best based on the goals of the mentee. Additionally, she provided a step-by-step guide on how to approach and ask for mentorship.

“At the heart of mentorship is human connection,” said Dizy. She recommended listeners think about how they can give back to a mentor and help them in a consequential way, sending an article of interest, or remembering important milestones in their life, or putting them in touch with someone who would be a great fit for an opening on their team.

Different from a mentor, Dizy explained that a sponsor is someone who has an impactful, deep relationship with you and trusts you.

“They open doors for you. They create opportunities for you to meet different people in their networks. They champion you. They advocate for you. They speak about you when you’re not in the room. Sponsorship relationships are earned. Sponsors put themselves and their reputation and their social and professional capital on the line.”

She debunked the idea that if women just put their head down, and work hard they will get the recognition they deserve. Dizy said this is simply not how things work.

“The higher up women get in the organisation, the more decisions are made about their career behind closed doors with multiple stakeholders, which makes this a subjective process.”

She explained that if no one at the table is speaking on their behalf, women will continue to get passed over for advancement, despite their hard work and dedication. Ultimately, women who have sponsors are significantly more likely to be paid better as they move up the corporate ladder.

Throughout her presentation, she identified actionable and tangible goals to find either a mentorship, sponsorship, or both.

Panel discussion — embrace equity to drive success

Next on the agenda was a panel discussion on embracing equity to drive success in manufacturing businesses. Sitting on the panel was Erica Lee Garcia, Managing Partner of Onward Business Mechanics, Alexandra Witt, National Service Manager at Endress+Hauser Canada, Eva Kwan, PhD Candidate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Western University, and Nour Hachem-Fawaz – President and Founder, Build a Dream.

The panelists chatted about strategies to embrace equity and the role of allies in creating an equitable work environment.

Ghosh opened the conversation by asking the panelists if offering equal opportunities to women in the manufacturing industry is enough to help them grow.

To sum up the responses, the panelists said that this is a good start, but it is important to go beyond by offering different types of supports and create a unified culture that allows businesses and individuals to thrive. There has to be an inclusive environment where people are able to access resources, and networks once they’re within the organization.

To provide a realistic picture of the industry, Hachem-Fawaz shared some staggering StatCan statistics about the ratio of men to women working in some of the highest paid trade jobs. There are 2,727 male general machinists compared to 159 female general machinists in Ontario. There are 1,161 welders that are men versus 90 women in the industry.

“When you break it down to that level to showcase how small the population is, and how isolated they may feel on the jobsite you begin to better understand what type of strategies and investment and intentional support you can take as a company to not only attract more women into your sector, but also address these issues and gaps within the workforce,” said Hachem-Fawaz.

Workshop — strategic career navigation and mapping to propel your success

Focused on increasing the number of women in leadership positions by accelerating their personal and professional journeys through collaboration and coaching, Kristina Cleary, Founder and Chief Leadership Officer at ACCELLE, led a workshop on strategic career navigation.

The chat was heavily leveraged during her workshop, where she encouraged women to share their current role, responsibilities, and day-to-day focus.

For the activity component, attendees were asked to determine,  “2023 was the most successful year yet for my career, because of ____.”

Many goals were shared. Here are a few examples: “Grew our team product sales, in a time of very unsettled supply chain,” “learned new skills,” and “made a significant difference in the workplace and helped people grow into talents.”

The workshop jumped into career planning mode and Clearly provided a template for participants to execute and take action on that plan.

Fireside chat with industry leaders 

Following the workshop was a fireside chat with industry leaders Linda Trbizan, Senior Vice-President of North American assembly operations at Stellantis, and Mary Larson who is a Partner in MNP’s Montreal Office and National Strategy Practice Leader.

As women in leadership roles in the manufacturing sector, Trbizan and Larson shared their experiences working in a predictably male dominated industry.

“As a woman raising a family, it’s not always easy. I think, as women we suffer from really high expectations of ourselves, and we think we can do it all. You can do it all, but you do need to find a balance,” said Trbizan.

Both women recall on how they were the only women in the room for many years. Larson was in the second class of women to attend Princeton University. When she attended Stanford for business, studies the ratio was about 9:1, men to women.

Larson credited the conversations that happened throughout the virtual event to be important and necessary to bring the manufacturing industry to where it can and needs to be to thrive.

Trbizan explained how the progress has been significant. In 2022, women held 27 per cent of global leadership positions at Stellantis, an increase of four per cent. By 2023, Stellantis aims 35 per cent of leadership roles will be held by women. She noted that there is still a way to go, but it is a far cry from what it was.

To move the needle forward, the women mentioned the implementation of business resource groups, companies being intentional about developing diverse leaders and setting targets around diversity, leader responsibility and as well for women to get involved and participate, even when it feels outside their comfort zone.

Panel discussion – Ask the experts

The final event was another panel discussion, a dedicated interactive session for attendees to seek answers for some of the challenges they face in the workplace. It was moderated by Karen Bozynski Wilson, Director of Partnerships, VentureLab. Panelists included Leslee Wills, Vice-President, People & Corporate Affairs, Bimbo Canada, Janet Wardle, President and CEO, MHI Canada Aerospace and Stephanie Holko, Director of Project Development, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen).

How do we attract women to the industry? How do we dispel the myth about manufacturing being dirty work? What is the future of manufacturing? Why are women not applying to jobs they are qualified for? These were just some of the many insightful questions that were addressed during the discussion.

Wills recalled a conversation with a co-worker about the need to work with governments to help influence school curriculums at an early age. She highlighted the need to stop telling children that they should all be doctors and lawyers.

“Doctors save people, lawyers keep people out of jail, and trades people get to build the world,” she recalled.

Wrapping up the event

The event covered strategies and solutions that can help women advance in the careers of their choice in the manufacturing industry. The well attended event had high participation throughout the day.

Participants were provided virtual delegate bags with additional content from the event sponsors, IPEX by aliaxis, JELD-WEN, MNP, Salesforce, Endress+ Hauser and Dynamic Source Manufacturing. They were also directed to the Women in Manufacturing website for additional news, in-depth features, videos and podcasts covering women in the Canadian manufacturing industry.

The 2023 Advance: Women in Manufacturing virtual summit was hosted by Annex Business Media’s 14 manufacturing media brands: Manufacturing AUTOMATION, Canadian Manufacturing, PLANT, MRO, EP&T, Canadian Plastics, Canadian Packaging, Design Engineering, PrintAction, Frasers, Canadian Process Equipment & Control News, Glass Canada, Fenestration Review and Food in Canada.


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