Allison Grealis is the founder and president of the Women in Manufacturing Association (WiM), which is the only national trade association that works year-round to support, promote, and inspire women in manufacturing.
Grealis has worked in the trade association space with manufacturing companies of all sizes for nearly 20 years. In 2001, Grealis began working for the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) where she had the great opportunity to interact with small to mid-sized manufacturing companies, most of which were privately held and family-owned. While working with members of PMA, she met leading women in metalforming, many of whom were rising to lead their companies or were in senior leadership.
“I had the opportunity to meet with women who were often taking over family businesses, or key leaders in manufacturing at metal forming companies. When I looked for resources for them, I was shocked to find that there wasn’t a national association that provided the kinds of resources they needed. WiM really has connected to my personal passions around women in leadership and in women’s advancement, as well as my academic and educational background in public administration and organizing.”
Mentoring Leaders of Tomorrow
Allison worked with a handful of leading women from PMA to create a conference to bring together women in the industry and allow for a community to be created and supported. During the past 10 years, WiM matured into a full-service, membership-based organization with over 5,000 individual members and 130 corporate members.
One of WiM's most notable programs is the Leadership Institute for Women in Manufacturing and STEM. It started in 2016 to provide formal leadership development for women executives in manufacturing. This support includes professional assessments, peer coaching, executive coaching, as well as expert advice from Case Western University.
Within WiM’s programs, women often find common ground as well as mentors that they had trouble finding within their own male-dominated work environments.
“We definitely wanted to facilitate [communication between participants], so we created private LinkedIn and Facebook groups and email chains for while they were in class. The great thing about offering these communications tools was that many of the women stayed connected after the class.”
The participants who stay connected continue to inspire, mentor, and learn from each other throughout their careers. Many women who finish these courses advance in their professions by applying new skills with the help of their new connections.
Surviving the Storm
While the current pandemic has been a challenging time for manufacturing companies, WiM adapted to share the benefits of its organization in new ways. Even though WiM members were not able to meet in person, WiM transitioned all programs online, which have reached a much wider audience.
“For us, this time has been a blessing in disguise in that it has allowed us to revisit how we serve our community and has helped us engage a whole new group of companies and individuals.”
Since April 1, WiM has delivered 75 virtual conferences between its national programs and its independent chapters, while attendance has increased. During this unprecedented time, when work can be unstable, WiM provides the needed resources to help professional women feel less alone.
“One of our new members recently shared on one of our virtual community chats that she joined our organization right at the start of the pandemic and our resources have already made a huge difference in her career. She’s gained the confidence to ask questions in meetings that she never would have felt comfortable doing previously. She now feels like she better understands her worth and her value within the organization."
Since the inception of the organization 10 years ago, there are now more women in the male-dominant manufacturing industry. Women used to only make up approximately 26% of the workforce. That number has grown to 30% and counting.
As more women join the trades, Allison continues to grow her community. She believes that WiM offers a support pillar that helps women feel less isolated and that can change their career trajectories.
“Our goal not only is to recruit more women in manufacturing careers, but also to help more women advance in their companies and in this industry.”