The role of women in the pursuit of NDE 4.0

Marybeth Miceli is a powerful and tireless advocate for women in NDT. She is a CEng, Member of the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT), past American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) Board Member, Executive Director of the Nondestructive Testing Management Association (NDTMA), President of Miceli Infrastructure Consulting, Principal of We-NDT Marketing Network and a mother. Ripi Singh, PhD, is the Chief of Innovation and Strategy, Inspiring Next, Professional Training and Coaching, Connecticut, USA. Recently, the two co-authored an article titled: ‘Role of Women in the Pursuit of NDE 4.0’, published in the March 2021 issue of Materials Evaluation. After reading the article, I contacted Marybeth and asked if I could quote portions of the extensive article.

“Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are a source of talent that can be harnessed, as digitalisation becomes a major part of the NDE section.” The article quoted a Forbes article, which said that traits such as listening and empathy serve women well in ‘change leadership’, with an ability to influence and inspire action in others, and respond with vision and agility in periods of growth, disruption and uncertainty, to bring about the needed change.

The article presented literature research triggered from Marybeth’s personal experience and from conversations with women leaders in NDE, to highlight the importance of a blended and balanced gender mix for NDE 4.0.

The article recaps NDE 4.0 as follows: “The cyber-physical non-destructive testing and evaluation arising out of the following: digital technologies, physical inspection methods and business models, which will enhance inspection performance, integrity engineering and decision-making, as well as provide relevant data to improve design, production and maintenance”[1].

The four design principles of industry 4.0[2] that have been interpreted and applied to NDE applications include interoperability, information transparency, technical assistance and decentralised decisions.

Mobile devices have absorbed a large number of basic components, letting the NDE technology developer focus attention on sensors and data processing algorithms. This makes it a lot more affordable to create new inspection equipment and upgrade, automate or network existing systems. All of these possibilities open up the new paradigm where NDE 4.0 provides an opportunity to choose quality (safety), speed and cost, as compared to the traditional perspective that allows only two out of the three.

Equality in the roles of men and women has changed throughout the industrial revolutions. In the agricultural society, both men and women shared the responsibilities of the work fairly evenly. Although they had different jobs, the duties were often intertwined and on the farm the work women did was valued just as much as the men’s work. After the first industrial revolution, the jobs of men and women began to diverge, both in function and value. Men would go out and work tedious jobs, while women typically stayed home with the children, cooked and cleaned. As machinery became larger and more capable, industry shifted towards male employment.

The first industrial revolution also generally brought about poor working conditions: dark, over-crowded factories with little focus on safety, which brought about accidents and disease. The second industrial revolution further reinforced these stereotypes, with the exception of the period during the Second World War, when women replaced the men who went to war, as in ‘Rosie the Riveter’. When men returned from the war, America enjoyed a thriving economy, which allowed many families to live comfortably on one income. Women were encouraged, through the media and social norms, to stay at home and provide a safe place to raise a family. This period started some trends that still affect us today, for example unequal wages. A man’s work was considered to be more valuable than a woman’s, as she was paid much less. What began here has only grown into a bigger problem over time, as women are still fighting for equal pay and respect.

The third industrial revolution brought a bit of women’s strength back into the workplace with computers, the ability to work flexible hours and the option to work from home. The struggles of the middle class in the 1970s and 1980s necessitated many homemakers to look for paid work outside the home and created the two-income family structure.

The fourth industrial revolution can dismantle gender stereotypes altogether. Joyce Burnette[3] showed that market forces, not discrimination, were the largest driver in gender differences in occupations and wages during the second industrial revolution. As people become the new competitive advantage, organisations will need to stop reinforcing gender roles to fuel an unprecedented race for the best talent.

Barbara Trautlein[4] asserts that each change agent has a basic tendency to lead with their heart (emotionally), head (cognitively), hands (behaviourally) or a combination of the three. Men tend to lead change more from the head, focusing on vision, mission and strategy. Almost half of the women studied placed a premium on engaging, communicating and collaborating (heart strengths) and almost a third of the women emphasised planning, tactics and execution (hands strengths). Women primarily lead from the heart with hands a strong secondary style.

The point of this study is an awareness of our styles and the ability to adapt behaviours to incorporate other approaches so as to be optimally impactful across a variety of people and situations. According to Trautlein, when leading through change, men tend to display behaviours traditionally associated with strategic executives, concentrating on future vision and new business horizons. Women tend to centre on supporting their teams to work together and develop a detailed roadmap to achieve a change objective, functioning more like supportive coaches. The research indicates that, in this regard, women will have an edge in leading through digital transformation in this era of the innovator.

All of these reports point out that innovation thrives better with gender diversity. Thus, it follows that the next industrial revolution and NDE 4.0 will evolve faster and better with the inclusion of both genders in appropriate proportions. Within Industry 4.0, three of the four guiding principles mentioned in this article require a significant amount of emotional intelligence, soft skills and resilience, thus providing a natural advantage to women.

  1. J Vrana and R Singh, ‘NDE 4.0 – a design thinking perspective’ Journal of Nondestructive Evaluation, Vol 40, 2021.
  2. M Hermann, T Pentek and B Otto, ‘Design principles for Industrie 4.0 scenarios,’ Proceedings of the 49th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), pp 3928-3937, 2016.
  3. J Burnette, Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain, Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  4. B Trautlein, ‘Do men and women lead change differently?’, LinkedIn, 2016. Available at:

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