The female workforce at national aluminum fabricator Gateway Extrusions has grown significantly over the past decade, according to the company. Today, women make up one quarter of its production workforce. Ten years ago, Gateway had just a few women working in production-related positions, mostly in the packing department. Now with 27 female production workers, nearly every department involved in extrusion, fabrication, finishing and shipping of Gateway aluminum products has several women, and many are in supervisory or senior positions. These numbers are in addition to women working in the company’s human resources and other administrative positions.

Headquartered in Union, Mo., outside St. Louis, Gateway Extrusions is nearing completion of a multi-year equipment and facility expansion.

“With our expansion over the past few years, we needed to hire a lot of new workers,” says Thomas Ziegler, president of operations. “Gateway didn’t actively target to hire women for the new positions, but they have been applying for the job openings, getting the jobs and are working out very well.”

Gateway has several programs in place to attract and retain qualified personnel, which have helped to fill new positions and have contributed to the growing female workforce. These programs include employee referral bonus plans, ongoing technical and managerial development courses and cross-training between departments.

Gateway’s human resources administrator Victoria Mennillo says, “Many of the women working here are taking advantage of our training programs and outside courses to expand their knowledge and skills. As a result, they are taking on more responsibility and being promoted. We’re proud of what these women are accomplishing. They’re inspiring everyone who works with them.”

One example Mennillo points to is Gateway’s first female in the extrusion department, Jerry Thompson. She came to Gateway when her children started school, beginning as a helper. With experience, Thompson moved up to extrusion operator, and now she is team leader of the 7-inch, 1,880-ton aluminum extrusion press. Another example of a female employee taking on a supervisory role is Simone Bradley, who joined the company in 2015 as an intern, and was promoted to maintenance manager earlier this year after earning her degree in industrial engineering technology. Bradley and her staff are responsible for all maintenance and repair of production equipment and building systems for the entire 170,000-square-foot Gateway facility.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, women may make up, on average, a significant percentage of the overall workforce in U.S. manufacturing. However, these statistics are probably skewed by industries such as textiles, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food production where women have traditionally been employed in high numbers. But in the primary metals and fabricated metal products category, women made up just 17.2% of the manufacturing workforce in 2018.

“With our production workforce at 25% women, Gateway is certainly an example to the industry of a manufacturer looking towards the future,” says Ziegler. “In this tight labor market for manufacturing, casting the net as wide as possible to include women just makes good sense.”