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Women in Manufacturing

Published by CME Manitoba on May 05, 2017

CME National Initiative to Foster and Advance Women in Manufacturing
By Rhonda Barnet, Chair of the Board, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters

Women and men have traditionally played defined roles in the workplace; roles that at one time were considered suitable to gender. History tells us that women were the caregivers and men were tasked with the heavy labour. Manufacturing of the past was often a labor-intensive, repetitive, dirty and tough environment; a place not considered suitable for women. Although the modern-day manufacturing facility no longer resembles this image, very little improvement has been made on gender diversity in the workplace.

As the first woman Chair of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), I am pleased to share a national initiative to improve on this, and encourage more women to consider career paths in manufacturing. I am a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduate myself (B.Sc. in mathematics) and have spent the last three decades pursuing a rewarding manufacturing career. Although statistics indicate 28 per cent of the manufacturing labour force is made up of women, my personal experience has seen only a handful of women in STEM careers. This needs to change. Companies want to see this change and see this an essential part of their long-term success.

Studies demonstrate that gender diversity of the labour force in any industry adds tremendous value to a modern workplace. Technology is driving rapid change in the modern-day business world in ways that play to women’s strengths of collaboration, creativity, communication, and relationship building. Today manufacturing jobs often involve highly innovative, clean and collaborative environments. This is an attractive environment for anyone to work. We need to do a better job to promote the modern image of manufacturing and the career options to all Canadian youth! These highly skilled jobs provide innovative, higher-wage career paths that are also stepping-stones to management opportunities.

It’s time to stop accepting women’s role in history of pursuing careers that are “traditionally feminine.” We need to develop a national strategy that educates women on the reality of modern-day manufacturing careers as well as fosters women to study and work in STEM fields. We have an aging skilled labour force, which is creating a serious skilled labour shortage across Canada. We believe women can help close this gap by bringing new perspectives and skill sets to further strengthen our companies and sector.

Manufacturers will be more competitive, more innovative and provide more employee satisfaction by focusing on ways to develop a gender balanced labour force. Let’s start this national dialogue and develop a meaningful strategy to break down the barriers and improve the gender balance in manufacturing facilities across the country.

CME is committed to manufacture change to support growth in our sector. Today this work now includes fostering and advancing women in manufacturing. With the support of the CME National Board of Directors I have asked Elise Maheu, Director of 3M, to lead the advisory working group for CME’s Women in Manufacturing. Elise will report back to the National Board to help focus our national strategy in ways that support and promote the advancement of women in all areas of manufacturing.

To succeed, we need your voice and support. We also need to celebrate and share the success stories of how companies across Manitoba are advancing women in manufacturing. If you are interested in participating in our Women in Manufacturing initiative or sharing your company’s story, please contact Marie Morden at

I encourage women in manufacturing throughout Manitoba to get engaged in CME’s events and on our provincial Board of Directors. I am a strong believer in the power of collective action that a member-driven organization such as CME brings to represent and shape the Canadian manufacturing environment. We cannot do this work without the direct support of members. If we are to be successful in our many initiatives including fostering and advancing women in manufacturing, we need your support more than ever.


I am excited to commence this important work with all of you. Together, we can manufacture change!


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