Posted on Apr 11, 2016

Women in ManufacturingWomen are sorely lacking in the manufacturing industry, according to a recent survey. They make up 47% of the U.S. workforce, but just 27% of workers are women in manufacturing jobs.

An annual survey commissioned by the Manufacturing Institute and others takes a look of this disparity and highlights some interesting points. The Institute, which works to develop manufacturing talent, conducted a survey of 600 women across a broad spectrum of the industry to try to understand why this gap exists.

Persuasive Argument for Attracting and Retaining Women in Manufacturing

The argument for attracting and retaining more women in manufacturing is compelling: They represent a vast untapped pool of workers that can help to fill a talent gap. Manufacturing is facing a shortfall of an estimated 2 million workers over the next decade, and a recent skills analysis referenced by the study shows that six out of 10 positions in the sector are currently unfilled due to a skills gap. It’s clear there is a place for more women in the sector.

And women are underrepresented in virtually every sector within the industry, from industrial and consumer products to technology, media, telecommunications and chemicals. In addition, the portion of women in leadership roles lags most other industries.

The respondents to the survey exhibited certain traits that are generally viewed as favorable when seeking new hires. Among them, the women:

  • Were experienced, with nearly 90% having more than 10 years experience and 47% with more than 25 years.
  • Held supervisory positions (65%),  including director (15%) and C-suite executive (12%).
  • Were well educated; about 75% had bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and about 66% studied general business, engineering or operations.
  • Were ambitious, with the majority aspiring to be senior managers or reach the C-suite (of those, 82% said they see a career path to get there).

Motivational Tools

Seven out of every ten women participating in the survey said they’d stay in manufacturing if they were to start their careers today. Only three out of ten said they’d take a different career path. For those who might leave, the main reasons were poor working relationships, lack of opportunities and low compensation.

When asked to list the benefits that are most likely to attract and retain female workers, the respondents listed the following three items as key:

  1. Flexible work practices,
  2. Formal and informal mentorship and sponsorship programs, and
  3. Identifying and increasing visibility of key leaders who serve as role models for employees.
    Respondents were also asked which industries are superior to manufacturing in attracting and retaining women. Here are their answers:
  • Retail (38%),
  • Consumer products (22%),
  • Life sciences and medical devices (20%),
  • Technology, media and telecommunications (14%), and
  • Others (6%).

Interestingly, 42% of the respondents represented women in the industrial products, process and transportation sectors, and none of those wound up in the list.

Furthermore, about 66% of the respondents indicated that their companies don’t have active recruitment programs to attract women and only about 33% said they believe that their company is good at recruiting, attracting and developing female workers. Notably, 71% believed that there is a pay gap between women and men. All those sharing this belief said men are paid more.

Six Steps for the Future

Only 12% of the respondents believed that the K-12 educational system actively encourages female students to pursue careers in manufacturing and 53% said that it doesn’t. A similar recent study from the Manufacturing Institute echoes the results with only 40% of the respondents stating that today’s students are qualified for a job in modern manufacturing.

Yet the studies also show that industry familiarity would foster a positive perception. The best path forward, according to the respondents, is based on these six steps:

  1. Start at the top. Any change in corporate culture must start in the C-suite. For diversity to have real meaning, executives must demonstrate their belief in programs and lead by example.
  2. Eradicate gender bias. When promotions arise, women should be placed on an equal footing with men and should be compensated in kind.
  3. Create a more flexible work environment. By accommodating a better balance between work and family, manufacturers improve the likelihood of attracting and retaining women.
  4. Facilitate sponsorship. A sponsor helps a worker develop and progress professionally. In addition, sponsors extend beyond mentoring and coaching to being a vocal advocate, enhancing a worker’s presence in the organization.
  5. Begin recruitment early. The survey cites a current lack of confidence in the education system. Manufacturers should begin recruitment in secondary school to encourage manufacturing careers.
  6. Promote personal development. Offering women challenges and opportunities to succeed is part of what will make manufacturing an attractive option.

Perceptions May Change

Granted, women in manufacturing have made great strides. But there still is a long way to go. As the industry continues to evolve, perceptions may be changed from both the male and female perspectives.