Last night Tulip hosted a panel discussion about the future of women in manufacturing.

Coordinated with the New England Chapter of Women in Manufacturing (WiM), an organization dedicated to connecting and empowering women in the industry, the event provided attendees an opportunity to network and swap stories over chicken skewers and drinks.

The core of the event, however, was dedicated to a panel discussion of pressing issues facing women in manufacturing, as well as the industry writ large. It was an invigorating discussion, mixing biography, perspective, and data about the state of women in manufacturing.

Here are our takeaways.

Not Your Grandmother’s Manufacturing

While each speaker stressed the historical contributions of women to manufacturing (for over nearly two centuries they’ve been a critical, overlooked segment of the workforce), they agreed on an important point: today’s manufacturing suffers from an image issue.

When many people think of manufacturing, they think of think of unsafe work conditions, dirty factories, and body-busting physical labor. As Heidi DeMello, Director of Organizational Development at Blount Fine Foods, noted, only 10% of surveyed women think that manufacturing is an appealing industry.

All of the speakers were quick to point out that this perception is far from reality. Modern manufacturing is a high tech industry with roles far beyond front line operator. Tulip co-founder and CEO Natan Linder explained how all manufacturing work is transition into knowledge work. Cristina Mendoza, Strategic Integration Lead at Capaccio Environmental Engineering shared how women have an opportunity to bring their experience from outside industries to bear in manufacturing contexts.

The attendees shared the reasons they went into manufacturing, collectively putting myths about manufacturing in perspective. Challenging work, hands-on tasks, a widened perspective on the world, and, of course, good salaries were all mentioned as reasons why the women in attendance chose to make a career in manufacturing.

Women Can Solve the Labor Crisis

For the last decade, the number of vacant positions in manufacturing has grown steadily. By some estimates, there could be 2.2 million unfilled jobs in manufacturing by 2020.

At the present moment, women comprise less than 30% of the manufacturing workforce.

The panelists seized on this these two statistics to make an important point: women have the potential to help solve manufacturing’s labor crisis.

Women earn over 50% of college degrees, and represent over 50% of the current workforce. Simply bringing more women into the industry would go a long way toward keeping the industry competitive for years to come.

No Substitute for Teamwork and Mentorship

Speaking from personal experience, all of the panelists agreed that mentorship is critical for bringing a new generation of women into the manufacturing workforce.

There was a strong emphasis on teamwork, on working together to develop skills, build careers and ensure women stay in the industry long enough to realize their potential.

Teamwork, according to the panelists, involves more than collaboration among women. Crucially, it means involving men in the conversation, and working to make sure that everyone in an organization is involved in creating a positive, inclusive culture.