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Women in Additive Manufacturing: Have We Moved the Needle?

Last week, I participated in a panel at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference called, The Changing Landscape of Additive Manufacturing - Women in Additive Manufacturing.

Impressive women representing a variety of backgrounds and perspectives joined me on the panel, including Elizabeth Goode, President of Goode Inc., Melissa Lutz, Business Director at Somos, Shannon VanDeren, President of Layered Manufacturing and Consulting, Judy Gill, Additive Manufacturing at Raytheon and Lisa Burt, Engineering Project Manager at Catepillar.

Among the questions we were asked, two essential questions we tackled as panelists were:

  • How has the industry changed since you started, as it relates to women?
  • What advice would you give to other women in additive manufacturing or a woman who is interested in Additive Manufacturing?

Here are my thoughts on the subject. First, I should caveat this post with a note that these are my own views based on my personal experiences and observations and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rize and its employees.

How has the industry changed?

I first entered the 3D printing industry nearly ten years ago and have worked in a marketing capacity at four different 3D printing companies, ranging from a small startup to a large global, public company. While I believe women in additive manufacturing have indeed made some strides - including the number of women involved and recognition - progress in these areas has been slow. If I had to put a percentage on it, I would say the needle has moved for women by around 10-15% over the last ten years.

To assess the number of women involved in additive manufacturing, I consider the percentage of women working at 3D printer manufacturers, service bureaus, resellers and women working in additive manufacturing labs. Of the informal sampling I took, I estimate that the percentage of women in these roles is less than 20%, which appears to be just slightly higher it was ten years ago. Of those women, the majority, myself included, tend to work in a sales/marketing, editorial, artist/design or administrative capacity - roles typically filled by women across many industries. There are indeed female engineers, scientists and additive manufacturing managers, but we don’t see them in nearly the same numbers as their male counterparts and they haven't risen to influential senior management positions in large numbers. I expect it will take several more years, until young women benefiting from STEM/STEAM education enter the additive manufacturing industry professionally, before these numbers increase significantly. In the meantime, I hope to see more female pioneers already working in the industry promoted to C-level positions.

I believe that women have made the farthest gains in the areas of influence and recognition, largely because they have taken matters into their own hands. For example, women represented approximately 5% of speakers at the AMUG conference. At the Inside 3D Printing Conference in New York and the upcoming RAPID event, less than 20% of the speakers are women. It’s not that women aren’t playing influential roles in their companies and in the industry – they are – but they generally tend to remain behind the scenes and their contributions publicly unrecognized. In fact, just recently, All3DP ran a story about the most powerful women in 3D printing. Admittedly, I hadn’t even heard about many of the inspirational women on their list and should have. It was another notable and influential woman in additive manufacturing, Rachel Park, who authored the article. I am truly encouraged that the article was published; it’s a giant step in the right direction. Another great example of women taking matters into their own hands is the Women in 3D Printing group founded by Nora Toure, which is designed to highlight leading women in our industry. 

Advice for other women in additive manufacturing or women who are interested in additive manufacturing

Although an increasing number of women are entering additive manufacturing in a variety of roles, it is still a heavily male-dominated industry. And, like other male-dominated industries, women must be confident, outspoken and work at least twice as hard as their male counterparts to be heard and respected. If you know your subject matter, speak with confidence. If you don't know, ask questions. Don't wait for opportunity; make things happen. You can’t be afraid to do so or to self-advocate and set boundaries. Above all, maintain a great sense of humor.

I have also found great support in talking with and befriending some remarkable women in the industry, including Cathy Lewis, Rachel Park, Leslie Langnau and many more, and suggest that other women do the same.

The additive manufacturing industry isn’t for those who are risk adverse, whether you are male or female. There will undoubtedly be considerable consolidation over the coming years and you must accept this risk if you want to work happily in the industry.

If, after working in additive manufacturing for a few years, you decide to leave, you’ll likely regret it. I tried leaving twice and missed it so much, I returned less than 12 months later - both times. Now I truly cannot envision working outside of additive manufacturing. The sense of community in additive manufacturing is unmatched by any other industry in which I have worked.

The eternal optimist

The fact that AMUG ran a panel about women in additive manufacturing this year to discuss issues like these is incredibly promising - albeit the session was held in the last time slot of the last day of the conference when attendance is minimal…OK, baby steps. Perhaps next year, we will see a higher percentage of female speakers in primetime sessions, not only at AMUG, but across industry conferences. I also hope to see more women in technical and senior management roles across the industry and recognition for their accomplishments and influence. Let’s plan on at least 10%+ progress next year vs. this year, rather than over the next ten years.

The rewards of this industry are endless. I can honestly say that I feel respected, I am passionate about what I do, I love 3D printing and I have made lifelong male and female friends in the industry.