March 5, 2019
Manufacturing Insights

Pirosko has helped AIS become a leader in gender diversity

Courtney Pirosko

Courtney Pirosko's leadership and management skills have helped Leominster office furniture manufacturer AIS become a leader as its vice president of sales. Now, she's offering her experience as a woman in a man's career at a North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce panel on women in manufacturing on at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Leominster DoubleTree Hotel.

How difficult was it to break into the manufacturing industry as a woman

Given my career path, the business side of manufacturing was not that difficult to break into. That said, I was a direct seller before managing, and I am fortunate that my company took a chance on me having no management experience. AIS provided me the opportunity to grow within the organization and learn to be a leader. In business, it seems the higher you climb the corporate ladder, regardless of if you are a male or female, the more challenges and sacrifices you are faced with. It is really great to see so many women entering into careers in manufacturing.

What were the barriers 18 years ago when you started your career?

I cannot really speak to any barriers that existed 18 years ago. I was not at my company, nor at this point in my career. I do know that AIS has always had women in leadership positions regardless of whether that was in accounting or human resources.

I am sure if you speak to other females, their opinions are personal to their situation. That said, in general, I think women would say we have a different set of challenges compared to that of men. However, women are brilliant multi-taskers, which is one of the attributes that can make us more effective at times in life and in the workforce.

How have those barriers changed?

The workforce has changed over the years, and thus barriers have changed. AIS employs 254 women in the factory alone. That number is staggering! It has taken a long time for women to get noticed for their impact in various fields. I am thrilled as female business professional to see this.

What have you and AIS done to introduce manufacturing to more women?

We are constantly hiring and promoting from within our organization. We have partnered with O'Neill and Associates, our local public relations firm on an article to highlight AIS and our female employee population from both the business side and the production side. We are working to get our name out there as a place where women can start a career in manufacturing and grow. We are constantly working to change the perceptions of traditional American manufacturing, from male-dominated and staunch environments, to a progressive workplace where both men and women can thrive.

Why do you think manufacturing skews toward men?

Manufacturing has historically been male dominated since Samuel Slater built the first cotton spinning mill in Pawtucket, R.I. during the American Industrial Revolution. Back then, men would go to work and women would stay home and take care the kids and the house. Those days are gone, as are the perceptions that manufacturing jobs were a career that was back-breaking, dirty labor which required very little skill.

Is that changing?

I see an increase in women in manufacturing but I think that really has to do with the growth of women in the workforce in general. The perception of the manufacturing environment is changing as processes and machinery throughout the country improve and become more high-tech.

What else needs to be done?

The major thing we struggle with is attracting young talent to Central Mass. Most kids, like myself out of college or in transition from high school to college, want to move to Boston or another larger city. There is opportunity right here in Central Mass. If manufacturing companies want to grow, attract and retain employees, partnering with local universities and high schools is a great place to start to build awareness. Speaking on behalf of my company, AIS is an organization to provide growth and career path for individuals seeking a profession requiring a college degree or one not requiring college experience. We can provide on the job training via AIS University and English as a second language programs to those in need as well.

Should manufacturers look to hire more women or hire the most qualified person, regardless of gender?

The most qualified person should be the one hired.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Zachary Comeau.

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