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Women’s History Month Series

Spotlight on: Toni Neary

Toni Neary is the Director of Community Engagement and Workforce Innovation at SME. This nonprofit began as a professional membership society and has evolved to be an international driving force for education and advancement in the manufacturing industry. Over its near-century of work, SME has gone by many names: the American Society of Tool Engineers, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and now simply SME. While its name may have changed, SME’s purpose never has. SME has ever been a champion of diversity and resiliency in manufacturing.

Now, almost 90 years after SME’s first female member Margaret Irene Cecil joined in 1936, SME is proud and lucky to have Toni Neary on its leadership. After receiving her Bachelors from the University of Toledo in Ohio, Neary worked for years with manufacturing giants to further manufacturing education initiatives. Mastercam thanks Toni for sitting down recently to discuss her career as a woman in manufacturing.

Toni Neary headshot

What do you do at SME?

TN: In my role, I work to grow awareness and excitement with new audiences to highlight our industry. I have a strong focus on early talent pipeline and on growing diverse pathways into careers in manufacturing. I like to say we are working to create a robust pipeline, the manufacturing workforce. We help start careers, from technician to PhD level, including marketing, finance, sales, and entrepreneurial roles. SME serves to advance the manufacturing industry as a whole.

What made you decide to join the manufacturing industry?

TN: I really stumbled into the industry, as many have. I had been downsized from a medical software company and applied for an inside sales position at a startup company based inside a manufacturer. That dreamy little startup became Tooling U-SME, where I spent the first ten years of my career – and then some. In that role, I really learned more about our industry, career and technical education, and the impact it all can have. Working with industry, education, and community-based organizations over the last 18 years has been an absolute gift.

What are some of the most memorable challenges you’ve faced along the way?

TN: As a woman in the manufacturing industry 18 years ago, I fell outside the norm. There were not a lot of females when I first started. It is really hard to walk into a room when you are the only one who looks like you. I firmly believe we are seeing changes, though. I love to celebrate and help other young women find their way in their industry and see the opportunities that are available for them. But that early feeling of “Do I belong here?” gave me an understanding and an empathy to know that joining our industry can be hard if you don’t feel welcome.

What are your favorite parts about working in manufacturing?

TN: I have to say – first and foremost – my favorite part is the people. I have met some of my greatest champions, some of my favorite people because they came into my life through manufacturing. My second favorite is the technology. We are moving at the speed of light to have the best technology and to see the advancement of automation. Now with AI coming into play, it’s an amazing time to be in our industry. My third favorite is watching the next workforce fall in love with manufacturing. Seeing the diversity of career opportunities and the people who reach out to grab them is thrilling.