March is Women's History Month, and at RAPID + TCT, we're using the opportunity to shine a light on the women shaping the future of additive manufacturing (AM).
Nora Toure founded Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP) — a nonprofit dedicated to making the additive manufacturing industry more reflective of the world in which it operates — in 2014.
Drawing on her experience as a young professional in the AM world, Nora sought to establish a network that would empower female leaders to thrive.
Here, she sits down with our team to talk about her experiences in AM, the industry's evolution and how Wi3DP will collaborate with RAPID + TCT 2023 to bring the organization's work to an even broader audience.
You've worked in AM for more than a decade. How has the industry changed in that time?
Since entering the industry in 2010, I've always been in sales. The first company I worked for was a service bureau, so we were primarily selling 3D printing services to businesses. At that point, not a lot of people knew about AM. A large part of my role was educating customers to help them understand the technology.
Today, we are in a much more mature market, and the conversations I have are more advanced. We can discuss materials, types of machines and software. Even if people are only aware of some of the applications, I no longer have to explain what 3D printing is — whereas before, that was always my first mission!
You founded Wi3DP in 2014, and it has since grown into a 30,000+ global community. What inspired you to start the organization?
Wi3DP arose from my need to create a network. I started the organization around two years after moving to the U.S., where my goal was to expand sales.
I found myself operating solo from a ping-pong table in a co-working space in San Francisco. I had no immediate team around me and needed to make connections. As a result, I started traveling to all the prominent trade shows.
Older white males heavily dominated the attendance at that time. As a young woman born outside of the U.S., I was an outlier in this crowd and found it hard to make headway. Gradually, I started generating sales for my company. However, the experience emphasized how often women are not taken seriously in this industry. I wanted to change that.
As I met more women in the field, I realized that almost all came to AM via an unconventional route. My initial objective was simple: to tell the stories of these female pioneers and make 3D printing feel less intimidating to others.
What are some of the most exciting milestones you have experienced since launching Wi3DP?
When I started Wi3DP, I had about 12 women in my network. I decided to publish interviews with them: one per month for a year. The project quickly snowballed! More and more women reached out to me and wanted to take part, to the point that I was publishing one piece a week.
I was still living in San Francisco at the time. As Wi3DP gained momentum, other women in the Bay Area started to contact me. We all met up in a bar and posted about the event on social media. A month later, I had someone reach out from Paris, saying they wanted to do the same thing. Then, it was London. That's how our local chapter program was born — a significant turning point for our organization. We now have a presence on every continent, with 110 chapters worldwide.
A few years later, I formed a board of directors and officially registered Wi3DP as a nonprofit. We have since launched several major initiatives, including our annual conference and our ambassador program, which now has 150 global participants.
You're working with RAPID + TCT 2023 to present a Wi3DP Showcase. What can attendees expect?
This year, we'll have a booth at RAPID + TCT. This is our first time having a dedicated Wi3DP presence at any trade show, so it's an exciting step!
While our name is well-recognized in the industry, many people aren't especially familiar with our vision, work and impact. We'll distribute information on our mission, manifesto and programs and share some new initiatives, including a toolkit for recruiting diverse talent.
According to research from Wi3DP, 13% of professionals in the AM space are women, and 11% of businesses are women-owned. What are some of the most impactful ways to encourage more female leaders to build and sustain careers in the field?
It is a complex problem to solve. Those working in manufacturing and technology generally accept that diversity and innovation go hand in hand. However, we simply don't have enough women applying for jobs in AM.
As a field, we have a lot of work to do to make AM more attractive and accessible to a wider range of candidates. We will need to take a multi-pronged approach to make that happen.
The toolkit we are releasing at RAPID + TCT will address some of these issues by giving recruiters a framework to think through how they can reach underrepresented talent. We're an open-minded industry, but we are still figuring out how to find the right people.
Has the gender gap in AM diminished over time? Do you anticipate it shifting over the next decade?
The field of AM is still very much dominated by white males. Over the past decade, I have seen the industry come to terms with the need for a more diverse workforce. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that the numbers are improving — we just have more awareness of the problem.
That said, I am optimistic about the future. I believe more women will enter the field. It's a long game, and as we tackle one challenge, we better understand how it overlaps with others. For instance, Wi3DP recently changed our tagline to reflect how other diversity markers — like racial and ethnic diversity — go hand-in-hand with gender equity.
I'm hopeful that as the number of diverse role models in AM increases, we'll start to see an industry that more accurately mirrors the world we work in.
Nora Toure is the founder and chairwoman of the board of Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP). This nonprofit organization aims to promote the visibility of female leaders and ultimately close the gender gap in additive manufacturing (AM). Nora has worked in the AM industry for over a decade and currently serves as acquisition sales director at Materialise, a leading provider of sustainable 3D printing solutions. She will present a Wi3DP Showcase at this year's RAPID + TCT event in Chicago.