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Celebrating Women in Forging

woman holding small metal bar with tongs and holds it over an anvil. A male co-worker waits for her as he holds a forging hammer

Today, while women comprise one-third of the manufacturing workforce, over half of women are more likely to be working in support roles instead of holding a better paying position on the factory floor. And, according to the US Department of Commerce, while women make up about 47% of the total workforce, they only make up about 30% of the 15.8 million people employed in manufacturing industries.

Still, these statistics are encouraging if not totally equitable. Census data shows that those who work in manufacturing earn over 21% more than the median income (and women in manufacturing make 16% more than the median for women). Women in manufacturing not only earn more, but also bring newer and different perspectives into the workplace. This can aid in decision making and serve as great mentors for individuals starting their careers in manufacturing.

There’s no doubt that more women are needed in the forging industry; the first step in keeping women in this industry is through equitable pay and fair treatment. 

In this article, we’ll highlight women in the past who helped pave the way for women today, the challenges women in forging face now, and how Trenton Forging is helping women overcome this challenge.

Women in History

Interior of a blacksmith forge. There is a fire roaring in the furnace and a wide variety of forging tools hanging on the wall

The Heinz History Center notes that there aren’t many recorded female blacksmiths in history, and there is no record of female blacksmiths until 1890. After the U.S. Census began recording every citizen’s occupation (and not just the heads of households), there were 58 female blacksmiths officially recorded out of a total of 205,337 industry workers.

The number of female blacksmiths increased during World War I and II because so many of the men in the workforce were fighting overseas. This was the beginning of women making the transition from primary school teachers, nurses, and office workers into manufacturing.

During these early days, women were not specifically celebrated for their skills and efforts in forging or blacksmithing, but there were a couple of notable blacksmiths that have been recognized in the past, including Tura A. Hawke and Nilda Getty.

Tura A. Hawke

Though more trade training programs were introduced to apprenticeship schools in the early 1900s, these sought-after positions were rarely made available to women. However, in 1917 Tura A. Hawke overcame this challenge and was able to attend and earn a degree in blacksmithing from Iowa State College. Her success was so unusual that the achievement was celebrated in several publications. Later, Ms. Hawke opened her own shop, and likely specialized in ornamental ironwork, horseshoeing, and iron hand tools.

Nilda Getty

Next, Nilda Getty forged a new path in blacksmithing for women. She was admired for both her handiwork and techniques in the early-to-mid 1970s. Ms. Getty often taught metalsmithing at Colorado State University, specializing in metal jewelry, sculptures, and other art pieces. Additionally, Nilda was one of many blacksmiths who were part of the studio craft movement in the 1970s, which focused on creating artwork and/or products that embraced both functionality and creativity.

Women Today

two blacksmiths, one male and one female standing in a forge. The female is slightly in front of the male, wearing a brown protective apron, and holding a forging hammer in her right hand.

In the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, blacksmithing was still considered a viable career option for women. But soon, greater quantities of metal parts for automobiles, construction, and equipment needed to be quickly produced. This decreased the demand for solo blacksmiths. The forging industry not only had to invest in new machinery, but also more workers to ensure they were meeting consumer demands. And, that consumer demand still continues to increase to this day.

Although blacksmiths still exist in the 21st century, skilled women are needed more in the forging industry. Compared to the past, women today have more opportunities to enroll in mechanical engineering programs, attend workshops, and sign up for training or mentorship programs.

Present & Future Challenges

Despite women today seeing more opportunities than their predecessors, there are still many challenges that they must overcome.

Representation

One challenge includes women who feel uncertain about starting a career in a male-dominated industry. These occupations have traditionally been ripe with harmful stereotypes and unfavorable environments for women. In fact, Women in Manufacturing states that women are not as likely to seek a career in manufacturing when compared to men, even though women who are currently working in manufacturing highly recommend it as a career path.

To overcome the lack of female representation in manufacturing, companies must attract and develop more women in leadership roles and on the factory floor. 

Workplace Environment

In order to attract more women to the industry, employers must also create a more supportive environment for women.  Some women in forging, especially those in leadership positions, may feel imposter’s syndrome. This feeling may be brought on by the fact that there are fewer females in leadership positions. Women need to feel equal to their male counterparts; this includes having a sense that they belong in the workplace and deserve their role in that workplace. To help overcome this particular challenge, employers should always verbally recognize when employees, regardless of gender, are doing a great job. Additionally, creating a supportive environment includes ensuring there are women’s bathrooms available on the shop floor, providing a clean and quiet place to pump breast milk, and instituting family leave policies.

Work Flexibility

Lastly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, more women left the workforce to homeschool and take care of their children. A Women in the Workplace report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company states that mothers are three times more likely to be responsible for household labor when compared to fathers. This statistic is going to be difficult to change, which is why companies must become more flexible. Forging manufacturers today can help reduce burnout by supporting work-life balance for their employees.

How Trenton Forging Is Making an Impact

plant tour

Trenton Forging is led by President Chelsea Lantto, who is also an elected Director on the Forging Industry Association (FIA) Board, and was named the youngest female Director in the history of the FIA. Our Chief Financial Officer is also female.

Our commitment to diversity and inclusivity includes our partnership with the FIA’s Women in Forging. This group was designed to help women in forging establish better connections, build relationships, and find mentorship and leadership opportunities. We want to be part of that change and open doors for more women in forging. 

Beyond our partnership with Women in Forging, we’re also focused on creating a great work culture, which applies to all genders and generations. We support a work environment where it’s okay and encouraged to ask questions. We also provide competitive wages and benefits and ensure training is tailored to individual learning styles. All of these factors make new hires and existing team members more comfortable in their roles, allowing them to grow and move up.

We also visit middle schools and high schools to encourage girls to move forward with STEM careers. We also promote professional development and create clear paths towards career advancement, offer hands-on experiences, and highlight meaningful work.

What You Can Do

If you are a woman in manufacturing that may be feeling imposter syndrome, remind yourself that you’re in your position for a reason. Often, women in manufacturing must learn to accept compliments and praise as genuine feedback, and realize that no one is perfect. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or strive for leadership positions.

On the other hand, if you’re an employer, you can ensure the workplace is more inclusive for female employees. Be sure to offer more mentoring and growth opportunities, more flexibility in scheduling, and ensure women feel supported and motivated in the workplace.

For those looking to start a career in forging, start by completing a training course, look for a mentor, or start networking with others in the industry. You can also join an engineering program and apply for a scholarship.

Find Your Place at Trenton Forging

community outreach; Gabriel Richard; plant tour

Are you a woman interested in starting a career in forging? Check out available opportunities at Trenton Forging. We’re an innovative American forging manufacturer specializing in custom impression die forging. When you join our team, we provide you with a supportive and welcoming environment, paid time off and holidays, medical and life insurance, 401(k) retirement plans, and tuition reimbursement. 

Learn more about working for Trenton Forging or start your application today!  

 

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