First Diversity Report Looks at Gender Representation in 3D Printing

Women in 3D Printing released its first report examining the representation of women in the additive manufacturing industry.

Given the skew seen in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs overall, one might guess that the 3D printing industry is overwhelmingly male. For this reason, Women in 3D Printing, an industry group “dedicated to promoting, supporting and inspiring women” in the additive manufacturing (AM) space, has put out its first quarterly diversity report.

The report seeks to suss out the gender diversity within AM, both using quantitative and qualitative details. The report’s author, Editor-in-Chief Sarah Goehrke, pointed out that, as of the first report’s publication, “[t]he workforce supporting the 3D printing market remains somewhat of a blind spot in reported metrics available in major industry reports; these figures are currently outside the scope of such reports due in part to a lack of access.”

However, by interviewing more than 100 women and relying on the numerical data available, Goehrke and Women in 3D Printing were able to establish a foundation crucial for understanding the 3D printing industry. Among the quantitative data was the fact that the AM “workforce is made up of 87 percent male employees and 13 percent female employees.” The majority of these women (29 percent) are found in marketing positions, followed by sales and consulting. In other words, positions that require interfacing with the public and customers.

At large, in STEM jobs, “a broad pay gap was found, widening as the talent ladder ascended,” a fact that can likely be applied to AM as well. Goehrke highlighted that in the two largest AM companies, Stratasys and 3D Systems, the executive leadership is dominated by men, saying, “Stratasys has two women represented. All five of 3D Systems’ reported executive officers are men.”

The qualitative data, subjective experiences presented through interviews with more than 100 women, was extremely valuable and insightful. Often overlooked in industry reports, which fixate purely on numbers, the interviews added a human element to the data while providing information that could hardly be captured with numbers alone.

For instance, while gender diversity in the workplace is a major focus of some of the women interviewed, not all even thought about gender as playing a factor in the industry.

Tatiana Reinhard, project manager and Fabmanager at le FabShop in France, is an example of the former.

“At the first professional shows we did, I was a bit pissed off to see people asking technical questions to my male colleagues. One time a man discovering 3D printing for the first time couldn’t believe my explanations about FDM: ‘Young lady, I think you’re wrong.’ I had to learn to have twice more self-confidence and attitude to be more considered, not to be assimilated as a hostess,” Reinhard said.“But the more awkward story might be this one. For a job, I was impressed to have six interviews with seven people. I got the job but after that an embarrassed male colleague explained to me that the company never asks as many appointments. They were not enthusiastic and confident to have a woman for this work so I was put to the test. But I was the best.”

Dr. Tracy Albers, president and chief technology officer of rp+m, might be an example of the latter.

“In my opinion, a leader is a leader. A problem solver is a problem solver,” Albers said. “The challenges I face as an individual are just that—things to overcome. I’m a good scientist. I have reasonably developed problem-solving skills, and I communicate fairly well. I believe I’m successful for those reasons not because, or despite, that I also happen to be female.”

Goehrke cited existing research to suggest that “a more diverse workforce produces stronger business results.” Therefore, this initial report may be key to driving businesses in the AM industry to become more diverse. Seeing the staggering lack of female representation in 3D printing should encourage companies to hire more women in order to “benefit from a deeper pool of talent bringing together individuals from different backgrounds and experiences with different ways of thinking and problem-solving.”

With that in mind, it would also be interesting if future reports explored other diversity data more including race, ability, religion, sexuality, class and other social categories. It might also be worth looking at the broader global and environmental context surrounding AM.

To learn more about Women in 3D Printing, visit the organization’s website. To download the report, click here.