3D Printing While Female: 2017

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formnext 2017 exhibitors’ evening

The 3D printing industry has a problem. It’s not a unique problem, particularly when looking to any sector of the greater manufacturing industry. Additive manufacturing has a diversity problem.

It’s not exactly a secret that there are more men than women involved in manufacturing in general; this has been a longstanding fact of employment around the world. At this time last year, I started to focus more on this issue. While I had been aware of the uneven gender distribution, and applauded and supported efforts aimed at boosting a more diverse range of voices across the industry, it became much more personal at formnext 2016 when at the exhibitors’ evening after-hours party I encountered, for the first time in my professional career, sexual harassment. It wasn’t a good night.

I went to the exhibitors’ evening this year determined to pay more attention to everything about my surroundings, from the hour to the more careful company I kept – and determined to enjoy myself, to reclaim the event as the pleasant networking event I knew it could be. Should be. For my part, these efforts were largely successful. Throughout the evening, I enjoyed the company of friends I’ve made at a few organizations over the last few years, including dinner discussion of last year’s events with Nora Touré, founder of Women in 3D Printing. We, and her colleagues at Sculpteo, turned a wary eye toward the dance floor as the live music began, but the fun seemed innocent enough.

On the third night of a major, massive conference, everyone is blowing off steam; drinks flow freely, conversations become more casual, and frankly it’s nice to unwind in the company of people whose feet hurt exactly as much as yours do. I’d fully intended to leave the party much earlier this year, so as to completely avoid any possibility of a rehash of last year’s events; comforted by largely comfortable company, however, I stayed well enough into the night.

And I was delighted that, despite being on my guard, the evening went well from my perspective. The DJ even played “The Macarena,” which, while greeted with perhaps a smidge less enthusiasm by some of the organizers I’d chatted with who don’t share my taste in preferred line dances, is sure to get the Americans out on the dance floor, ready to break it down like it’s 1996. Terrible taste (mine, admittedly) in music aside, from my point of view the night continued nicely; I made several new acquaintances, running quickly through the handful of business cards I’d brought along with me in exchange, and continued both business and casual conversations from earlier in the last three days. For disclosure’s sake, yes, I was still hit on this year – but respectfully, and without any of the discomfort, pressure, or unwanted physical advances I had previously endured. No meant no, and everyone parted as friends.

I came out of the exhibitors’ evening perhaps not refreshed, but comforted; I’d faced down the late-night spectre that had hung over my head (and worried my husband) for the last year.

And then I saw a tweet from TCT’s Duncan Wood:

I try to keep tone neutral and content professional on this platform, but allow me the liberty to not mince words in this instance: If you touch a woman (if you touch anyone) without her permission, you are an asshole. What you are doing, what you have done, is not okay. You are the problem.

It happened again. It happened to my colleagues, to other female press and event organizers I have come to know and absolutely respect on personal and professional levels. I don’t want to say “they don’t deserve that” because no one deserves that. But it cuts deeper when it’s personal. I know these women.

It is absolutely unthinkable to me that someone could spend a week at a conference – a professional event – and have it occur to them to ever treat colleagues with the disrespect shown.

Opening the formnext 2017 exhibitors’ evening with a toast to the organizers

Recently, Women in 3D Printing has backed a new initiative: #StrongerTogether with INSTANCES. If you know any offenders, please consider reporting them; it’s free and fully anonymous.

We’re living in the age of Harvey Weinstein, of speaking up – so let’s speak up. I’ve been through a lot of airports in the last week (in fact, I began this draft on my flight home from Frankfurt) – so to borrow a phrase from the TSA: If you see something, say something.

If you see a colleague disrespect someone, pull them aside; counsel them away from their inappropriate behavior. If you see a stranger do the same, help defuse the situation, either directly or by reporting actions to an organizer. If you see a colleague, friend, or acquaintance in an unpleasant situation, help to remove them.

Catching a moment with more strong women in the industry during a first-night booth party: with journalist Rachel Park; Polygonica’s Cristina Sesma; and Rize’s Julie Reece

There’s a lot to say about this topic; there’s a lot being said about this topic. There are a lot of people saying it better than I ever could, and on platforms better suited for such discussion than a tech news site. I have great faith in and hope for the industry around 3D printing; it’s become more than a job, and more than a career, for me at this point. It’s personal. And I personally believe that we, as an industry, as humanity, are better than this.

So be better than this.

Let 3D printing while female be what it can be: a pursuit driven by effort and merit, not one guided in even the slightest way by systematic or internalized misogyny. It’s 2017. Almost 2018. The “old boys’ club” has no place here. Women are here, too, and we’re ready to work. Without watching our asses.

Discuss diversity, formnext 2017, and other 3D printing topics, at or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[Photos: Sarah Goehrke / Tweets included from Roger Ucenda, CEO, BCN3D, and Duncan Wood, TCT]


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