PSU alumnae inspire growth for women in manufacturing
Author: Erin Merz
Posted: June 11, 2019

Supply Chain Alumnae, left to right, Natalie Gilbert, Dina VanderWaal, Rachel Vore pictured in Boeing Portland factory

Photo courtesy of Boeing. Left to right: Natalie Gilbert, Dina VanderWaal, Rachel Vore

In fall 2016, Portland State University undergraduate supply chain students Dina VanderWaal and Rachel Vore earned second place in the annual Boeing Business Case Competition. The achievement sparked a series of career opportunities with Boeing, where they—along with fellow supply chain alumna Natalie Gilbert—are now climbing the ranks and working toward closing the gender gap in the male-dominated manufacturing industry.

Gilbert, VanderWaal and Vore were interns at Boeing before being hired on full time, and each has found success in their role. Of the 1,500 employees at Boeing’s Portland factory where they work, about 12% are women.

“We’re typically the only women in the room,” said Vore, a supply chain analyst. “It can be challenging at times, but we’re optimistic that it’s changing.”

Gilbert, a procurement analyst, said that one of the most important skills she gained at The School of Business was how to work with people who are different than her.

“PSU’s supply chain program taught us how to work in a global environment because we were learning in a global environment,” she said. “The classroom was an equalizer, and we quickly learned to value diversity.”

Each of the three students found mentorship in Daniel Wong, director of PSU’s supply chain management program.

“He encouraged all of us to apply for internships, even when we didn’t think we were qualified,” Gilbert added about Wong.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 29% of the manufacturing workforce. In PSU’s supply chain program, women make up 32% of undergraduate students and 38% of graduate students.

“These women are just one example of the changing industry, and how we need to empower women to pursue careers in manufacturing,” Wong said. “Particularly in aviation where leadership roles are predominately held by men.”

According to a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, a skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million manufacturing positions unfilled through 2028. Closing the gender gap could help solve the problem.

Vore said that many people, especially women, believe that you need to have direct, technical, hands-on skills before pursuing work in supply chain or manufacturing.

“The reality is, it’s more about how you problem solve, work in teams and perform under pressure,” she said. “You need a desire to learn. At Boeing, they’ve taught us what we need to know to succeed.”

VanderWaal, a supply chain analyst, demonstrated her commitment to gender equity when she became the co-founder and president of Boeing Portland’s chapter of Women in Aviation Manufacturing. She hopes that women in aviation manufacturing—and those hoping to enter the workforce—will flourish through the support of the organization.

“It’s critical that women support other women, especially when there are so few of us in a highly competitive industry,” said VanderWaal. “We’re here to model the way and inspire young women to consider a career in manufacturing. We are capable and will make the industry thrive.”

VanderWaal is influenced by women leaders at Boeing who serve as mentors and role models to other women.

“They’re guiding our way and exposing us to new opportunities,” she said. “The chapter is our way of paying it forward.”

The chapter’s first event had excellent participation across disciplines, affirming the need for women to gather and discuss equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The recent study by Jing Zhao, assistant professor of finance at PSU, showed that companies that promote a diverse workforce and a culture of inclusion, specifically attracting and retaining women and people from other underrepresented populations, were more efficient in generating new products and patents. The range of views and backgrounds, experiences and expertise the company attracted, Zhao concluded, the more innovative the company was.

“The success of our students and alumni reflects the power of diversity,” said Wong. “Corporate America cannot afford to ignore women. They bring the perspective needed to solve critical business problems.”