TIPE Conference 2021: How Female Leaders Are Changing the 3D Printing Paradigm

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The global organization Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP) hosted the first annual TIPE 3D Printing virtual conference with an all-female agenda of speakers and panelists from the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. The two-day event provided a platform to attract and empower women worldwide, who gathered to share their experiences, expertise, initiatives, and innovative visions that are transforming the industry.

With an emphasis on forward-looking strategies and leadership, TIPE’s agenda was packed with over 40 presentations, 147 female leaders across the aerospace, medical, consumer, automotive, industrial, and non-profit sectors, with sponsors like Dassault Systèmes, GE Additive, HP, MatterHackers, and TRUMPF. From January 27 through 28, AM trendsetters led panels, fireside chats, and networking sessions under five expert-driven tracks: technology, industry, people, economics, and youth. The event featured discussions about cutting-edge applications of AM technologies and celebrated diversity and equity in 3D printing while unveiling the systemic inequalities that setback women from reaching their full professional.

Events Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP). Image courtesy of Women in 3D Printing.

One of the world’s greatest human rights challenges is gender equality. Stagnating statistics remain similar across different countries and intensify in developing nations where women fare even worse. In Europe, women doing jobs requiring the same skills as men are still paid significantly less. While in the U.S., it’s been well established that there is a gender pay gap between men and women. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017, the median full-time, year-round female worker earned 80.7% as much as her male counterpart. In Canada, women account for only 28% of the manufacturing sector workforce despite a labor shortage of over 41,000 jobs.

Women have been part of the 3D printing industry for a long time and are becoming a visible force. They have made considerable strides in the progression of the fast-growing engineering sector. According to Wi3DP Board Director and former 3DPrint.com Editor-in-Chief Sarah Goehrke, women make up about 13% of the 3D printing industry. Since 2014, Wi3DP has been actively fighting to close the gender gap in AM by promoting, supporting, and inspiring women. Led by Founder Nora Toure, the group builds visibility, enhances networking opportunities, provides resources, and fosters a more diverse community of industry participants. The organization’s spirit was reflected in this new virtual space, highlighting how women are changing the 3D printing industry.

Executives from major groups such as Velo3D, Desktop Metal, Boeing, L’Oreal, GE Additive, Coach, and Autodesk, as well as players from the academic community, government organizations, and non-profits, took part in the conference and panel discussions that offered key insights into areas such as metal AM, healthcare, the economics of 3D printing, creating startups, and how women can create an impact in AM.

Protolabs’ CEO Vicky Holt at the company’s facility. Image courtesy of Protolabs.

During the second-day keynote panel “Power Women,” four female leaders shared their words of wisdom on the importance of women in leadership roles, the value of diversity, and how AM is driving industry change. For Protolabs’ CEO Victoria Holt, who will be retiring on March 2021, “manufacturing is at the edge of a huge transformational change,” but “we are just at the very beginning of what this technology can do.” Co-panelists Michelle Bockman, CEO of 3D Control Systems; Marie Langer, CEO of EOS; and Sonita Lontoh, Global Head of Marketing, 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing at HP, agreed and also mentioned that to succeed, AM requires educated people who know how to work with the technology, reduce costs, as well as design for additive rather than try to fit additive in traditional manufacturing design.

The panelists agreed that leadership is one of the driving forces behind AM technology. During a brief introduction, they shared their experience moving up into top leadership roles in male-dominated industries. They advised fellow women to have courage, resilience, purpose, and keep on learning. Lontoh said female leaders are more empathetic, collaborative, customer-centric, and more willing to develop other leaders than their male counterparts. More importantly, women leaders are more open to having teams from diverse backgrounds.

“When you mix people from diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences, you get a value network, where the interconnectedness and interdependence can advance and benefit the network as a whole rather than individual members,” said Lontoh. “This can apply to the industry as well. For additive to move forward, all the players in the industry have to collaborate and mix people with diverse backgrounds.”

Sonita Lontoh participated in panels and led discussions during the two-day virtual TIPE 3D Printing event. Image courtesy of Women in 3D Printing.

In a double fireside chat between Goehrke and guests Heather Baker, VP of People at Fast Radius, and Ruha Reyhani, Chief Transformation Officer at EOS, the discussion centered around actionable ways to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. In advocating for inclusion, both women said they are trying to educate co-workers and communities on how to drive forward positive change in their industries. While Reyhani stressed the obvious – diversity drives innovation – she pondered why it is so difficult to close the gender gap.

“There is a phenomenal force field that pushes back and is not so easy to navigate when we are trying to drive an increase in diversity. This is where we need to create allies and merge,” said Reyhani. “We learned through research that diversity training can backfire and realized that we need training that brings about empathy. I suggest we invite leaders and peers to take a moment and ask the question: ‘Can we create programs but also situational discourse where we can up our empathy?’ This would allow us to accompany people that are different from the ‘normative culture’ – if you can call it that.”

Reyhani mentioned several actions companies should be taking to encourage diversity in their leadership. There is a massive blind spot, she said. Many well-intentioned men don’t understand the diversity dynamic or know they have the power to make a difference. “I think that we have many allies who cannot be allies because they are not aware. Those are the ones we have to seek out,” went on the expert.

Part of the 147 speakers at the all-women live TIPE 3D Printing event. Image courtesy of Women in 3D Printing.

One of the takeaways from the two-day event is that women in the industry are teaming up to amplify their voices and accelerate progress to close the gender gap. As the new decade begins, building fairer and more inclusive businesses should be industry leaders’ goals. The TIPE event highlighted the massive quality of women in AM, virtually gathering crowds of both women and men attendees from around the world. It didn’t only provide discussions about specific challenges in the workplace and a comprehensive look at industry gender inequalities; the female leaders also unveiled a host of innovations and new content.

The live event dealt with questions from an industrywide audience that embraced the exhilarating pace and ample choices available in each of the five different expert tracks. Toure and her team did a fantastic job curating the global conversation on 3D printing and keeping audiences active and engaged. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has accelerated the adoption of 3D printing in many fields, giving women more job opportunities and the chance to begin re-organizing the industry to create a brighter future for fellow women interested in entering the world of AM. Towards the end of the pioneering event, Toure announced a second TIPE conference in 2022. Still, in the meantime, there will be plenty of follow up events during 2021, and for anyone who missed the event or wants to relive any of the inspiring discussions, panels, and case studies, replays are available for a one-time $95 access fee.

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