Visit to the Rockwell Collins facility in Coralville, Iowa.

130 Women Manufacturing Leaders to be Honored at 9th Annual STEP Ahead Awards

WASHINGTON, D.C., 07/13/21 –

The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, announced today the recipients of the 2021 STEP (science, technology, engineering and production) Ahead Awards. The STEP Ahead Awards honor women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their careers across all levels of the manufacturing industry, from the factory floor to the C-suite. On Nov. 4, the MI will recognize 130 award recipients at an in-person reception and gala in Washington, D.C.

“Women in manufacturing proved themselves time and time again during the pandemic, driving innovation and progress, and they are now helping our industry build the next, post-pandemic world. We will honor these manufacturing leaders with the STEP Ahead Awards, elevating their success and providing them a platform to inspire the next generation of women manufacturing leaders,” said MI Executive Director Carolyn Lee. “The skills gap remains a top challenge for manufacturers, and our STEP Ahead Honorees will help us close it. They’ll play a crucial role in bringing more talented, motivated women into modern manufacturing. We’re confident these Honorees will serve as living proof that women can dare to dream of a fulfilling, rewarding career in the industry.”

“The 2021 STEP Ahead Honorees and Emerging Leader Awards reinforce the exciting career opportunities available in manufacturing and help inspire more women to pursue these careers,” said 2021 STEP Ahead Chair and Johnson & Johnson Executive Vice President and Chief Global Supply Chain Officer Kathy Wengel. “As an industry, we are always working to do more to bring more women into manufacturing and encourage their innovative ideas and transformative leadership. Congratulations to this exceptional group of leaders!”

Launched in 2012, the STEP Women’s Initiative is the nation’s marquee program to close the gender gap in manufacturing. STEP consists of the STEP Ahead Awards and a professional leadership development program, as well as regional STEP Forward events throughout the year. The initiative works to foster a 21st-century manufacturing workforce by elevating and inspiring women in the manufacturing industry through recognition, research and leadership, as well as by motivating alumnae to pay it forward by mentoring the next generation.

The biggest challenge facing manufacturers continues to be the growing workforce crisis. Manufacturers can close the skills gap by 50% simply by bringing 10% more women into the industry. Women account for about half of the U.S. labor force but represent less than one-third of the manufacturing workforce.

“Year after year, the STEP Ahead Awards demonstrate the tremendous contributions women have made to the manufacturing industry—and the 2021 Honorees and Emerging Leaders are no exception. The creativity, commitment and passion displayed by each of these women leaders and rising stars drive innovation in our industry forward,” said 2021 STEP Ahead Vice Chair and 3M Senior Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Denise Rutherford.

“It is their stories and experiences that will inspire the next generation of young women in manufacturing and leave a lasting impact on the future workforce in our industry.”

The STEP awards will take place as the MI, along with the NAM, continue the Creators Wanted campaign. Creators Wanted is the manufacturing industry’s largest campaign to build the workforce of tomorrow—and excite, educate and empower a new generation of creators in the United States today. Half of funds raised for Creators Wanted support the MI’s workforce development efforts into 2025, including for initiatives focused on students, women, veterans, workers and underrepresented communities. The other half of funds raised for Creators Wanted support online events/programs, digital content and tools and a nationwide tour to build the talent pipeline and shift perceptions about manufacturing careers among students, parents and teachers.

-The MI-

The MI grows and supports the manufacturing industry’s skilled workers for the advancement of modern manufacturing. The MI’s diverse initiatives support all workers in America, including women, veterans and students, through skills training programs, community building and the advancement of their career in manufacturing. As the workforce development and education partner of the NAM, the MI is a trusted adviser to manufacturers, equipping them with resources necessary to solve the industry’s toughest challenges. For more information on the MI, please visit

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