7 Female Leaders in Manufacturing You Should Follow

female leaders in manufacturing

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According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2019/2020 the manufacturing sector’s workforce was 72.5% made up of men aged 20 – 74. This makes it one of just 5 industries with female participation under 30%, up there with Construction, Mining and Transport industries.

The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMCG) points to one of the key factors in low female participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as being a lack of representation of female leaders in manufacturing.

With a clear participation disparity in the industry the women that do pursue careers in manufacturing face greater challenges and barriers to career growth than their male counterparts. For this reason, the women who have triumphed in their respective fields of manufacturing deserve our recognition and praise. These 7 female leaders in manufacturing are changing the face of the industry and inspiring the next generation of female leaders in Australia and beyond.

Female Leaders in Manufacturing you Should Follow:

Veena Sahajwalla

Veena Sahajwalla at the SMaRT@UNSW centre
Veena Sahajwalla at the UNSW SM@RT Centre
  • As a leading expert in the field of recycling science, and founding Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology at UNSW, Professor Veena Sahajwalla is producing a new generation of green materials, products and resources made entirely, or primarily, from waste.
  • In 2018, she launched the world’s first e-waste microfactory which transforms the components from e-waste items such as discarded smart phones and laptops into valuable materials for re-use. The following year, she launched the first plastics microfactory, which turns plastic waste into high-quality 3D printing filaments, and where each module is used to create a singular product.
  • Sahajwalla also heads the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for ‘green manufacturing’ and was named the 2022 NSW Australian of the Year.

Rochelle Avinu

  • Australia has excelled in recent years in the manufacturing of medical devices and equipment, and Rochelle Avinu is a pioneer of this space. She has been described as a “leading light in the production of cancer diagnosis instruments.
  • Following a long tenure with Leica Biosystems as a key member of the leadership team where she managed a 50-strong team and 5 seperate production lines, Avinu has recently joined SCHOTT MINIFAB as Head of Reagent Integration. The company creates and manufactures ground-breaking microfluidic products and medical devices.
  • For her efforts, Rochelle Avinu was awarded Victoria’s 2019 Woman Manufacturer of the Year, and received the top honours for Excellence in Manufacturing at the 2020 Women in Industry Awards.

Cori Stewart

Cori Stewart - female leaders in manufacturing
Cori Stewart at the ARM Hub
  • Dr Cori Stewart is CEO of the ARM (Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing) Hub, a world-leading technology centre in robotics and design-led manufacturing that accelerates industry’s digital transformation.
  • Under Stewart’s leadership the not-for-profit ARM Hub specialises in AI, robotics, Internet of Things, design and manufacturing and collaborates with industry and research to modernise manufacturing practises, build new manufacturing tech, commercialise R&D, and build workforce capability. 
  • Throughout her career, Cori Stewart has been a recognised leader in developing large-scale partnerships between industry, research institutions, governments and the community. Stewart has previously held senior university appointments and government policy roles in industry development, the digital economy, creative industries and innovation.

Samantha Read

  • Samantha Read has a career spanning more than 30 years across the chemicals, plastics, renewable fuels, automotive and steel industries and is currently serving as CEO of Chemistry Australia and a member of the CSIRO Manufacturing Advisory Group.
  • Previously, Read was CEO of the Biofuels Association of Australia and held senior executive and board roles at GM Holden and General Motors Australia and was a Non-Executive Director of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and Manufacturing Skills
  • Samantha Read is a passionate advocate for Australian manufacturing and believes that our industrial base is critical for Australia’s economic health and community wellbeing, providing skilled and high value STEM jobs, investment and new technologies to meet our future challenges. 

Gabrielle Costigan

Gabrielle Costigan Speaks at a Conference
Gabby Costigan speaks at a conference
  • Gabby Costigan was CEO of defence contractor BAE Systems Australia from 2018. BAE Systems has been a trusted contact of the Australian Defence Force for over 65 years, providing some of most advanced, technology-led defence, aerospace and security solutions.
  • Following a successful tenure leading the Australian arm of BAE Systems, where the division grew from about 3,000 employees to over 5,500, Costigan has been promoted to Group Managing Director of Business Development for the global company based in the UK. BAE Systems is the largest manufacturer in the UK.
  • A former colonel in the Australian Army, her distinguished career led to Costigan being awarded an MBE in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her services to United Kingdom/Australia relations. Her achievements don’t end there, Gabby Costigan is also a member of the CSIRO Manufacturing Advisory Group, a board member for the Princes Trust and Chair of the Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service.

Gwynne Shotwell

  • Many may assume that the success of SpaceX can be attributed to founder Elon Musk, but in reality it’s been the leadership of President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell that has rocketed the space transportation and exploration company to it’s achievements.
  • Under Shotwell, Space X has grown from a futuristic idea of enabling people to live on other planets to a company with over 10,000 employees and a valuation of $74 billion. She oversaw the first landing of an orbital rocket’s first stage on land and on an ocean platform, the first relaunch and landing of a used orbital rocket, the first controlled flyback and recovery of a payload fairing, and the first re-flight of a commercial cargo spacecraft.
  • Gwynne Shotwell was named in the Forbes list of Most Powerful Women 2021 as well as the Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2020. She was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 2020 for bringing affordable, commercially competitive space transportation to NASA and the US National Security Space Launch.

Mary Barra

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Mary Barra
  • Mary Barra is an American businesswoman who has been the chair and CEO of General Motors since 2014. She is the first female CEO of a ‘Big Three’ automaker. Her transformative, innovative leadership and deep knowledge of the company and engineering has allowed GM to remain successful throughout a challenging period for automakers. Barra’s work in inclusion and gender equity has made General Motors one of only two global businesses that have no gender pay gap
  • Under her leadership, GM has shifted in recent years to become a major competitor in the Electric Vehicle market, beating Tesla to the chase in creating an electric car priced under $40,000 with a range of 200 miles in 2017. In spring 2020, she shifted GM’s production lines to help Ventec Life Systems make critically-needed ventilators.
  • Mary Barra was listed as 35th on Forbes Most Powerful Women list in 2013, rising in rank to fourth most powerful in 2018. In 2021, she was included in the Time 100, Time’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

These are just a handful of the great female leaders in manufacturing across Australia and the world. As businesses develop and grow into the future we are hopeful that we will see more and more inspiring female leaders in manufacturing emerge.

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