The Manufacturing Institute announced on March 2 that it will honor Whirlpool Corporation’s Ottawa Plant Lead Kristin Day and Amana Operations Production Manager Sarah Tommelein with Women in Manufacturing STEP Ahead Awards. Day will receive the Honoree Award and Tommelein will receive the Emerging Leader Award in a ceremony held in April. The STEP Ahead Awards recognize women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their careers and represent all levels of the manufacturing industry, from the factory floor to the C-suite.

STEP Ahead Award Winner 2020

“Being recognized is a great honor especially since my entire career has been in manufacturing, and this puts me in the company of so many talented women,” said Day. “I have to say that it’s not just me receiving the award, though. There’s an incredible team around me that’s my support system.”

STEP Ahead Award Winner 2020This same sentiment is echoed by Tommelein, who started her career in the Leadership Development Program (LDP) five years ago.

“I have to thank all the people throughout my career so far that helped me out,” said Tommelein. “I wouldn’t be getting this award and I wouldn’t be where I’m at without them. I’ve had a lot of great managers and others who helped me out along the way. Everyone here at Amana is incredibly supportive all the way up to the plant manager.”

The biggest challenge facing manufacturers like Whirlpool Corporation continues to be the growing workforce crisis. Manufacturers that are struggling to find enough qualified workers can close the skills gap by 50 percent, however, simply by bringing 10 percent more women into the industry. Currently, women account for about 1/2 of the U.S. labor force, but represent less than 1/3 of the manufacturing workforce.

Day emphasized that manufacturing is a great career option for women, and encourages young women to consider a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

“I can honestly say that I’ve fallen in love with manufacturing because it’s an extremely challenging, fast-paced environment and there’s something new to learn every day. Women of all ages may question whether they can be successful in the field of STEM. The biggest advice I have for other women is don’t limit yourself, surround yourself with an amazing support system, and believe that it’s possible.”

Tommelein feels the same way about a career in this industry, and after multiple rotations in different parts of Whirlpool Corporation through the LDP, found a home at the Amana plant.

“By the time I got to my third rotation, I was pretty excited to be in manufacturing. Once I got to Amana and had a full year in a manufacturing role, that’s when I knew it was what I wanted to pursue moving forward. There’s a lot of different opportunities and a lot of different roles for women in manufacturing.”

Started in 2012, the STEP Women’s Initiative is the nation’s marquee program to close the gender gap in manufacturing. In the first five years of the initiative, STEP Ahead Award winners have impacted more than 300,000 individuals — from peers in the industry to school-aged children.