If you’re a woman working in manufacturing and you’ve noticed that you might not be treated as an equal among the men you work with — you’re not alone.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the PowerPlex show in Atlanta. Plex sponsored my trip to their event, which highlighted its industry-leading manufacturing ERP software and the customers who have had success with it.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the conference though was a women’s luncheon, followed by the session, “Women in Manufacturing and Technology.” The session, which featured a lot of audience participation, included:

  • Dorothee Baas, financial systems manager at Stant
  • Heidi Melin, chief marketing officer at Plex
  • Judy Nagy, general manager at North American Lighting
  • Patti Nowak, principal at Control+M
  • Lillian Reaume, chief human resources officer at Plex
  • Ben Stewart, chief information officer at API Heat Transfer

Although I don’t work directly in manufacturing, I do cover it and I have been in the workforce long enough to know that sexism is still a very real problem. And sometimes it can feel like maybe you’re a bit crazy or overreacting to the challenges that come with being a female — but listening to other women share their stories reminded me that all of us are facing the same obstacles.

We talked about relatively minor things, like how wearing flats instead of heels can change your life. But we also discussed more serious topics, such as the lack of equal pay for women, sexual harassment and the need for women to mentor other women.

One woman at the session shared the story of how she had to look at salary reports for a project and realized a man who was in the same position as her and who actually had less education than her was making $10,000 a year more than she was.

So, she went to her boss to ask about it, and he said he could give her a $5,000 raise. She pushed back and by the end of the day had gotten the full $10,000. Later, she asked her boss about the reasoning behind the pay gap and he said simply that the man had been a better negotiator when he was hired.

It’s a frustrating situation, and most women don’t have the luxury of seeing salary reports, and may never know that they are making less than the men they work with. The obvious advice to women is to negotiate better, but that can often come with a social cost that men don’t face. So perhaps the only real, long-term solution is salary transparency.

The session also addressed how women are seen as different than men when they have the same qualities. For example, where she is pushy, he is persuasive, and where she is rude, he is direct and to the point.

There was also advice for men worried about sexual harassment — complement skills rather than looks. Nobody complains when you compliment a woman’s ability to do her job. And people in the audience stressed that women should support each other and work to amplify each other’s voices in meetings.

The session and the luncheon were both great, and empowering. But I couldn’t help but notice that it was pretty much all women at both events. That was by design of course, but most women already know that sexism is still prevalent and many have learned how to navigate it. Perhaps it is men, who may not be quite as aware of the issues women face, who could really benefit from these types of sessions and luncheons.

Because while women are quite powerful, we are going to need the support of men if we ever want to be truly equal in the workforce. 

Find more coverage of PowerPlex here: Mike Rowe thinks more kids should skip college