Every March 8th, people around the world are encouraged to think about the struggles that women have overcome and continue to endure. Though we have come far since the early days of women’s liberation movements, systemic and long-lasting inequalities between the sexes continue to affect women of all walks of life and in all parts of the world.
International Women’s Day is not only a day to reflect on the rights fought for and won by our ancestors, it is also a time to challenge current inequalities and look for ways to create a more egalitarian world.
As a woman working in the additive manufacturing industry, I am today thinking about the fact that tech and additive manufacturing remain male-dominated fields. I am thinking about why that is and how it can change. I am thinking not only about my own experience in the industry, but those of other women. Those who have been in the industry for a long time, pioneering the emerging technology, and those who are—like myself—at the beginning of their AM careers.
This International Women’s Day, we spoke to a number of women who are shaping the additive manufacturing industry from their respective fields and positions. They’ve each provided a unique insight into their experiences as women in the 3D printing sector and shared their hopes for the industry. On a personal note, I can’t thank each of these women enough for their contributions to this article.
Women’s Day contributors
Bianca Maria Colosimo
Barriers for women in AM
Additive manufacturing is an especially interesting subsection of the tech industry because it straddles so many different areas, including manufacturing, materials, software, academia, engineering, design and more. Perhaps for this reason, the AM industry does seem more open to diversifying its work force—as many of the women we’ve spoken to will attest to.
Still, we have some way to go before true equality is achieved, as most leadership positions in the industry are held by men, and women are still underrepresented in STEM-related fields. (According to a UNESCO report from 2014-2016, less than 30% of researchers in the world are women and only around 30% of all female students pursue STEM fields in higher education.)
Cathy Lewis: I believe that any industry in a high-growth mode is embracing diversity in general and women in particular, out of necessity, It is almost impossible in today’s tight labor market to maintain your position or grow without tapping into a constituency that represents half of the labor force. That said, like most high-tech business, we do lag in female representation mainly due to the fact that women have not always been encouraged to pursue technical careers.
The last statistic I read suggested ~13% female representation in both technical and non-technical roles in AM. This may be slightly ahead of other tech industries but it indicates that we have real room for improvement. This is where organizations like Wi3DP can help foster a more diverse industry and people like me can mentor and encourage women to get involved.
As Lewis suggests, the barriers that obstruct women’s entry into AM and other tech fields are not always visible ones, and often have to do with the fact that young girls have not historically been encouraged to pursue STEM subjects. In other words, it is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed broadly and deeply.
Bianca Maria Colosimo: I’ve been doing research in manufacturing for the last 20 years and I have to admit that I’ve often been one of the few women. Usually, people are not used to women in this field, but their initial distrust can easily turn into curiosity and amazement when you are able to show your competence. Maybe the lack of inspiring examples and the small number of women in industrial and mechanical engineering studies are still major barriers.
The road to equality
With recent movements putting the spotlight on gender inequalities in the workplace, I was curious to know whether any shifts have taken place within the additive industry specifically. The response was largely positive, with the women we spoke to noting that their own experiences suggest that things are gradually heading in the right direction.
Arita Matsoff: I am happy to acknowledge that there are many more women across the AM industry today than at the time I had joined it in 2010. I was among the very few. I believe there is an ever-growing role for women in this (and every) business arena, especially in cross-cultural and global enterprises.
Colosimo emphasizes why AM is well poised to address gender equality issues.
Colosimo: Additive manufacturing provides a tremendous opportunity for women at this point in time. The first reason is that AM requires multidisciplinary problem solving and a holistic perspective. AM problems are complex and require teamwork that combines design, materials, manufacturing, computer science and (big) data analysis and modeling. Diversity is a fundamental ingredient, in terms of competencies and skills. This is where women can play a relevant role.
Laurence Vigeant-Langlois: I’ve witnessed and participated in several diversity and inclusion advances over my career. For example, I admire MIT for achieving a share of 46% women in their undergraduate population in 2016. I’ve witnessed and appreciated culture shifts that drive men to call out other men for disrespectful comments and behaviours. I’ve had successes in increasing staff diversity when the latter constitutes a true priority at the top of an organization. I also passionately participate in initiatives that attract diverse students into the STEM field.
Nora Toure, whose work at Wi3DP is addressing inequality issues head on, emphasizes that there is still some way to go before real equality is seen in the industry.
Nora Toure: I personally haven’t been in this industry for long enough to see a real difference from within just yet. I believe the diversity changes we will be seeing in our industry will follow the trends we’ll see on a more global social scale as it touches various industries.
I think we are just at the starting point of this discussion and big questions are now being asked, such as ‘Where do I find female speakers to feature in events?’ and ‘Where do I find female talents to hire in my company?’ We still have a long road to go, as female CEOs and women in leadership positions are underrepresented, and women-owned businesses get less funding than men-owned businesses. For now, at least, some of the big questions are being asked, and we want to offer some piece of the answer.
Benefits of diversity in AM
One thing that is evident to everyone we spoke to is that diversity is an advantage in the additive manufacturing industry at large.
Lewis: Women bring unique perspectives to a business and they tend to have a leadership style that is more inclusive. The women I have met and worked with along the way also tend to be highly creative problem solvers and AM is about leveraging creativity to make parts and products based on optimum performance, not just manufacturability. This is the promise of AM. We truly need creative designers and visionaries to lead the next evolution in AM, which means we need more women!
Colosimo: Diversity is always an advantage. In the case of AM, it is a mandatory ingredient to solve all the complex problems we are facing. New processes, new business models, new technologies, new materials, new paradigms in terms of digital manufacturing and data-augmented processing: these are all problems where diversity is required.
Vigeant-Langlois: Both fields of aerospace and additive manufacturing offer tangible and exciting ways to capitalize on the important skills that the STEM field offers. I believe growing the pipeline of talent across all demographics in STEM careers is foundational to advancing our industrial sector, driving economic growth, and driving up gender diversity.
Of course, some areas of the 3D printing sector are already more diverse than others. Fashion and design, for instance, have less of a diversity problem than a field like aerospace. From that perspective, designer Danit Peleg sees the emerging fashion-tech segment as a good entry point into AM.
Danit Peleg: It can be a great starting point to anyone who is interested in fashion tech, no matter who you are. This industry is so young and that’s why I love it so much—nothing here is a taboo and I love finding new solutions for my challenges. There are always challenges associated with being a career woman, but for me it’s not because I’ve chosen to work in this industry.
I’m happy to work with people from all around the world and I never felt any judgement because I’m a woman. Maybe that’s an optimistic sign that shows us that our society is starting to move forward from the stereotype that women are less technical than men. I don’t really feel that there is any difference between women or men in fashion and 3D printing. The mutual passion for creation is what helps me to reach such a large audience.
Women in 3D Printing
This International Women’s Day, I feel it is important to highlight very real effort to address diversity (gender and otherwise) in 3D printing: the new Diversity for AM (DfAM) reports issued by Women in 3D Printing. These thorough reports—the first of their kind in the industry—gather information from companies across the industry to establish a stronger understanding of AM’s demographic makeup.
The DfAM initiative is spearheaded by Nora Toure and Sarah Goehrke—both of whom are committed to encouraging discourse around diversity in AM.
Sarah Goehrke: Each edition of the DfAM report is a new labor of love. I’ve been heartened to see the response of the report, especially that each time there’s a request for it to keep growing. For the first time in this third iteration, we look to a broader definition of diversity. In addition to gender parity, we’ve collected information from industry participants on the educational, age and ethnic backgrounds of employees.
The reports are born out of Toure’s Women in 3D Printing organization, which—since its founding in 2014—has become a place for women in the industry to connect and find professional support. The organization consists of a magazine, a number of local chapters, events and meetups, all geared towards establishing a community for women in 3D printing. Presently, Wi3DP has over 7,000 members.
With the third edition of the DfAM report being released today, it is clear that—at the very least—the industry is open to a discourse on diversity. As Goehrke and the other women we spoke to emphasize, however, there is still work to be done.
Goehrke: The process has its ups and downs, as we still don’t have that much hard data gathered to paint a fuller picture. Our gathered reports are still only in the dozens, when hundreds of companies are employing thousands of people; that’s a lot of employment information we still don’t know. Working with other resources and examining well-done surveys has shown that gender parity is still a long ways off in 3D printing as an industry.
It’s great to see some real powerhouse women in this industry, but evidently we still have a long way to go as most estimates place women at less than one-quarter of total employees in 3D printing today, and some as low as 11% industry-wide. [Estimate from Additive Manufacturing Salary Survey 2018 by Alexander Daniels Global]
To the future women in AM
Something else that all the women we spoke to can agree on is that they love working in 3D printing. Despite the challenges that must still be confronted from a diversity standpoint, they recognize the potential for the industry to get there and see numerous opportunities for women in AM.
Lewis: I love 3D printing. Love it! It is hands down the most exciting and promising industry around— and it’s really greater than that as it affects all other industries in how they create and deliver their products. My advice is to get involved and learn as much as possible about AM, both historically and in regards to the future of these exciting technologies. Join a 3DP organization like Women in 3DP or a Maker Lab—or start one!
There are so many roles one could consider, from designing in 3D, helping physicians plan a surgical procedure, developing new materials to actually manufacturing products using AM. This industry has been around for over 30 years but as I look out on the horizon, I believe the greatest promise and accomplishments of AM are yet to come.
Vigeant-Langlois: As I advance in my career, I make a point to help other women accelerate their successes. I have taken an active role in organizations like the International Aviation Women’s Association and the GE Women’s Network. These engagements have enabled me to drive more dialogue and progress around dual-career families and to mentor, coach and sponsor women. I do this for those who are still too often fighting negative biases.
Mattsoff: I have been fortunate to pursue exciting professional opportunities and challenges in 3D
printing, following a career of executive marketing roles across several and diverse industries. That perspective allowed me to see the special spark inherent to the 3D printing domain and understand why most of us active in it regard it as a passion, not just a profession.
From the academic perspective, Colosimo hopes she can inspire young women to pursue STEM subjects and careers.
Colosimo: As a university professor, I can play a relevant role for the new generation of young women: I can be an inspiring model and I can introduce them to the extraordinary amount of new professional opportunities offered by AM. I can testify that AM is for all, it is an extraordinary adventure, and, overall… it is lot of fun!
International Women’s Day and beyond
As with all diversity and inequality issues, the onus should not solely be on women to achieve equality. The men in additive manufacturing and in the broader tech world will have to recognize the issues and dynamics that insidiously keep women out of STEM fields and work to break them down and to bolster the women in the industry and those seeking to work in it.
California-based Carbon is a good example of a company that is prioritizing diversity in the workplace, and its CEO Joseph DeSimone has been explicit in the company’s intentions to foster a diverse team.
DeSimone: At Carbon, we continue to be deliberate about structuring our teams by considering human diversity as a primary factor. We believe this has been a key to our growth and success. When pursuing a common goal, a team composed of people who have vastly different perspectives, and who often (sometimes passionately!) disagree, is better positioned to challenge conventional paradigms through respectful dialogue and deliver creative ideas and innovative solutions to challenges.
Similarly, 3DEO, a metal AM production company, is putting an emphasis on diversity in its team, not just to say it has, but to improve its business. The company’s President and Co-Founder Matt Sand also announced today 3DEO would be sponsoring an upcoming Wi3DP meetup in Los Angeles.
Sand: At 3DEO, we believe in diversity and equal opportunity. Our female workforce has been an integral part of our success to date. Recognizing the valuable contributions of the women on our team, we consciously work to foster a culture of inclusion. This team diversity is central to our core values and meaningfully contributes to our competitive advantage. We are thrilled to honor women in manufacturing by sponsoring Women in 3D Printing.
Overall, while there are still many improvements to be made on the diversity front in additive manufacturing, it is heartening to see that women are succeeding in the industry and have taken up the mantel of promoting the cause, often with the support of men. Today, on International Women’s Day, diversity is brought to the fore, but it is a conversation that must take place every day.