Local women in the manufacturing field in Fort Smith say they hope to be an example for others to follow.
The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith hosted a panel presentation on women in manufacturing at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday as the Chamber continues to mark Manufacturing Week.
Panelists included Kendy Brown, senior human resources associate for Owens Corning, Lori Hayes, human resources manager for Gerber Products Co., Amy Johnson, director of operations at Rheem Manufacturing, Tracy Long, vice president of marketing at ABB, formerly Baldor Electric, and Lee Ann Vick, vice president of production at Weldon, Williams & Lick Inc.
The moderator for the presentation was Micki Voelkel, associate dean of the UAFS College of Applied Science and Technology.
Voelkel asked the panel members what they thought women and diversity bring to the field of manufacturing. Hayes said she thinks diversity adds so much to life in general. She said it sometimes feels easy if people surround themselves by others who are like them, but if they do that, they are not making any progress or changes, or staying current or relevant.
"So sometimes that friction, because sometimes whatever the difference is, and maybe it's not gender, maybe it's just your way of thinking or your way of working, but those differences sometimes feel a little friction, a little painful, but it adds so much value, and I think it just makes us better people, it makes us better organizations or driving better business results," Hayes said. "I think it just all ties. I think it's critical."
Another question Voelkel asked was if diversity is important in manufacturing and if the economy is based on manufacturing in this area, how can more women be recruited and retained in manufacturing jobs. Long said this week is Manufacturing Week, and ABB has about 500 children visiting during this time because it really wants to open the doors to manufacturing.
"We need people to do that kind of work, and statistics show that the majority of students do not go to college, or do not finish college, and so there have to be other options for those students, and going into a manufacturing career is an absolutely valid choice," Long said. "All of us have done it, and I think all of us would do it again because we see the value in good hard work that produced good products for people that are used year-round, whether it be food or motors or air conditioning or insulation or whatever the products are."
Long said those in attendance have to first open the doors and help people understand what it really looks like to work in manufacturing. She also thinks it is very important to send young people out, particularly young women, to talk to students.
"Because I think we all set an example," Long said. "We all set an example for each other. We set examples for our own children, but we set examples for future students. And I think as we bring engineers and production folks up into the adulthood, and they can go out and spread that word, I think the example we set speaks volumes."