According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up about 47% of the American workforce but only 30% work in manufacturing. And while recent trends show an increase in women starting manufacturing careers, more can be done to attract and retain female workers.
Astec’s Avril Watt, general manager of the company's Franklin Blvd plant in Eugene, Oregon, is doing her part to pave the way for more women in manufacturing. She leads a team of approximately 205 people who make some of our crushing and screening heavy equipment.
When asked to reflect on the first woman to inspire her, Avril was quick to reply. “My mom. She was in the medical profession and saw a need for elderly care homes, so she started her own business. She always had that ‘Can Do’ philosophy and I was fortunate to have her as my first role model in business.”
To inspire a future generation of women to join the industry, Avril makes sure to represent Astec and the industry whenever possible.
“It’s important for women to be seen in leadership roles and to take advantage of opportunities to showcase our business knowledge and expertise,” she said.
Over the course of her 20-year career, there’s been one constant: the need for skilled workers. So, when the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce launched its #WorkReady program, Avril jumped at the opportunity to join the Chamber’s #WorkReady committee to help cultivate a pool of qualified talent. Recognized for her business acumen and leadership skills, Avril was later invited to join the Chamber’s Executive Board and currently serves as its Chair.
More recently, Avril joined a panel of women for a Women in Trades Q&A session, hosted by Lane Community College. The event was another opportunity to showcase the important role women play in the manufacturing industry.
“I was honored to participate and share my experience, along with some other wonderful local women in the trades,” Avril said. “Lane Community College was delighted that about 100 women attended and have already begun planning a bigger event for next year.”
Avril shared why the manufacturing industry would benefit from having more women in the workplace.
“When you get down to manufacturing at the site level, it’s all about flow and throughput and having a good operational cadence,” she explained. “The ability to manage those moving pieces is a trait I believe comes naturally to females and is reflected in how women often balance work with the duties of home.”
She goes on to dispel the misconceptions that women need to be strong or adopt a “macho” persona to be accepted and excel.
“Manufacturing is not the same as it was 30 or 40 years ago,” she explained. “Advanced technologies and automation have made the industry much more accessible and exciting. I tell young women that they don’t have to be as physically strong as a man, just have an insatiable curiosity to learn.
“God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason—to listen twice as much as I talk,” she continued. “I find when I’m on the shop floor and I tap a welder or machinist on the shoulder and ask why they’re doing something a particular way, they take great pride in showing me why. Listening has helped me understand operations better, the needs of my team and create a collaborative, respectful environment.”
When women like Avril become leaders, they bring a multitude and diversity of new talents and perspectives, which make a positive impact on operations and the business at large. Let’s hope more women find their way to manufacturing careers.