Recently a group that included three UAB alumni spoke to the Birimgham Chapter of the American Foundry Society (AFS). Below is a synopsis from Lindsay Hamner, class of 2013.


 

While I was a student at UAB, I joined the AFS in 2011. Later, I served as vice president of the UAB AFS Student Chapter. After graduating, I started working at American Cast Iron Pipe Company as a Manufacturing Engineer in Melting. During my three years in that department, I worked to maintain consistent, desirable temperatures and chemistries of ductile iron to supply to the pipe shops so that we could make good pipe. I now work in the Quality Systems and Compliance Department, ensuring that we stay in compliance with all of the standards and regulations required of us and that we maintain all the systems necessary to ensure that we continue to create a good product. I also serve on the Board of Directors, Website/Publicity Committee, and the Student Relations Committee for the AFS Birmingham Chapter. I have recently joined the chapter’s planning committee for next year’s AFS Southeast Regional.

At this point in my life, I’m fairly well established at work. I know my way around the facility (mostly… it’s a 2,000 acre facility, so I’m not an expert, but I can get from point A to point B with some degree of confidence and accuracy). People know my name (even though some people still think I’m an intern, or even high school student when they first meet me, which is still funny!). Outside of work, I have a social life to maintain. I don’t have any kids, and I’m not married yet, but I just recently got engaged, so now, in addition to all the stuff I do for the AFS outside of work, I also have a wedding to plan, preferably without getting myself any further into debt. Oh, and I still need to pay off student loans, my car, and my house (#goals). Other goals include finding time to work out, learn to cook healthy foods, read actual books, and sleep.

So, I obviously don’t have enough going on in my life, so I decided to get involved with the Women in Metalcasting group. I love this group and these women that I get to work with. It’s a very small industry in the first place, and like every field of manufacturing, the number of women in this industry is depressingly low. This group is there to provide mentors to women of all ages and in every place in their career. We are supportive group for an underrepresented group.

As an engineer, I like numbers. Well, so does the group Women in Manufacturing. I‘ve been following them for a while, reading blogs and enjoying reading the research they share. They did a survey not long ago of close to 900 women in manufacturing because they wanted to know why when comprise around 47% of the total workforce in the US, but only 26-27% of manufacturing workers. I got curious and decided to see if I could find any data on how much of the foundry industry is made up of women. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up only 7.5% of foundry workers in 2016. I haven’t found a breakdown of that to differentiate office personnel from manufacturing personnel. I would love to see that information one day.

Anyway, part of what they looked at is why that number is so small. Anecdotal evidence here, but when I was in school, half of the students in my department were female. Why are there so many female engineering students, but so few females in the workforce? Basically, according to the Women in Manufacturing study, the perception of the industry isn’t wonderful. People think of manufacturing, and they think of dirty old factories with people standing in line performing repetitive tasks, day in and day out. They think of dirty, old, smelly men. They think it’s an old boys’ club. They don’t think it’s interesting or challenging work. They don’t see women in leadership, so they don’t see a path for upward mobility. They don’t see any good mentors. Sure, in some companies men will do their best to step up and help. I’ve got some wonderful male mentors in my life at work, but they don’t understand all of the problems I’ve faced.

When I first came to work at American, I had a wonderful, strong female mentor. She knew which people would give me trouble just because I’m a woman. She’d been there, so she could give me a heads up to either expect it and be ready to stand up for myself, or she could give me an alternate path that would allow me to accomplish what I needed to by circumventing people who would make my life difficult. She also understood that harassment happens. She understood how annoying it is to be told, “Hey girl, you should smile more,” in inappropriate settings. We could talk to each other and there was an understanding of how it feels. She was there to tell me which people were probably going to try to interrupt me during meetings and how I could get them to shut up and let me finish what I was saying. She knew what it was like to have an idea be ignored, just to have a guy present your idea the next week and get all the credit for coming up with such a great plan. It was nice to have someone to commiserate about that stuff with, but who would then tell me to woman up and move on and make sure that I get the respect I deserve by not moping. Fantastic mentor. Great woman.

Well, one day, she moved on to a different company. It was like having a chair pulled out from under me. I didn’t have anyone anymore who could help me foresee issues and preemptively move to keep things from escalating. I tried talking with some of the other women in manufacturing, but there just weren’t that many options. A couple years ago, there was a hashtag that went viral, #Imanengineer. We gathered up all the female engineers at our facility to take a picture together. 3 women showed up. It was disappointing. I’m hoping to change that number in the future. I couldn’t find another good female mentor until I was introduced to Women in Metalcasting.

Young people in general, but especially young women, who are still deciding on a career path are not given an honest perception of what metalcasting and other manufacturing jobs are like. It is definitely challenging work. There are new problems every day in foundries everywhere. Sometimes, you have the same problem, but for some reason, nothing you try can fix it. Machinery finds new ways to make life difficult. It is challenging and rewarding work. Yes, the number of women in leadership is small, but it isn’t unheard of for women to own and run their own foundries, and the number is growing. There are several members of Women in Metalcasting who run foundries. I mean, if you want to talk about some boss ladies, these women are incredible. They are so encouraging and supportive of other women in the industry. We are a pretty straightforward group of people. There aren’t a lot of women trying to “tear down the competition.” I’ve been told by men in this industry that I really need to watch out for the other ladies. Women are supposedly the ones who will throw me under the bus for their own gain. I’ve never experienced that. I don’t know anyone who has. We want to see each other succeed and grow. We want to mentor each other and those coming after us. It’s very much like a family, and that’s why I love this group.

Also, I love the guys I work with, but sometimes it’s just really nice to talk to another woman.



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