Women in Manufacturing’s Impact: Yesterday, Today and the Future

As I think about iconic manufacturing women in history, I think about how much we have accomplished and how much potential we have to grow. Some of the greatest inventors, creators and leaders in this world are women. In 1871, Margaret Knight was awarded her first patent for a machine that cut, folded and glued flat-bottomed paper shopping bags. In 1903, Mary Anderson invented and patented the windshield wiper. In 1908, Melitta Bentz received a patent for the coffee filter system. And in 1942, Hedy Lamarr invented a remote-controlled communications system for the U.S. military during World War II. Her frequency hopping theory now serves as a basis for modern communication technology, like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. These women were preceded and followed by many more.

These women before me have forged a path for my career and success in this industry. I have always been fascinated by how things work, so I intentionally sought a career at a manufacturing company whose products transform the world. It’s helped me to understand the impact of industry beyond our national doorstep. One of the best things about my job is touring our facilities and watching raw materials become products; I am still awed by the deep science and engineering collaboration that allow Arconic’s innovations to emerge. That is the feeling I want every girl sitting in a science or math class to know—that each of them can help invent the next frontier of technology.

As chair of the 2018 STEP Ahead Awards, I recognize the significant impact present-day women have made on this industry. Over the past five years, STEP Ahead Award winners have impacted more than 300,000 individuals, from peers in the industry to school-aged children. With that alone, we know these STEP Ahead women have played a part in attracting, retaining and advancing high-quality female talent in manufacturing, laying the groundwork for future visionaries, trendsetters and go-getters.

While there is an underrepresentation of women in the industry, I firmly believe that women will continue to rise to the occasion and create greatness—just as we have for centuries. Where would we be without the Hedy Lamarr’s or the Margaret Knight’s of the world? Where would we be without these thought leaders and innovators that have changed our lives as we know it? I am proud to be a part of an industry where women have played a significant part in shaping our current livelihood and will shape the future.

Natalie Schilling

Vice President of Human Resources at Arconic

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