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How top leaders can empower women in manufacturing

Between the onslaught of sexual harassment cases highlighted by the media within the last year and the increased awareness that movements like the Women’s March and #TimesUp brought, saying that women’s issues are on the national radar would be a massive understatement. Within a field like manufacturing however, there is still room for improvement: in 2016 women made up 47 percent of the American labor force, but only 29 percent of manufacturing employees.

Deloitte, who reported these statistics, called women one of US manufacturers’ “largest pools of untapped talent.” Simply ensuring that women have equal employment opportunities in hiring decisions is not enough. On her presidential campaign trail, a hopeful Hillary Clinton talked about how whether we do it subconsciously or not, there is still this built-in questioning about women’s executive ability.

Having a corporate culture that empowers women starts with top leaders. Here are some tips on how to encourage this in your manufacturing business:

1. Invest in family benefits for the company.

Modern gender roles no longer require most women to occupy the role of “stay at home mom,” but many working women still experience conflicting pressures from both their family and career. Creating a company culture reflective of female employees struggling with this issue will be an advantage for work atmosphere.

Family benefits for manufacturing employees could include a range of programs: paid maternity or paternity leave, on-site care for young children, and flexible scheduling.

Scientific research supports that these programs are helpful to a woman’s overall potential as an employee: one study showed how women who took a maternity leave that lasted longer than 12 weeks had lower rates of depression symptoms and better overall mental health than those who took shorter leaves.

2. Change the perception of women in manufacturing at your business.

No matter how far we’ve come as a nation with empowering women, one female engineer still talks about how she expects the surprised looks on her male peers’ faces when she walks onto a construction site. A certain stigma remains around the female presence in male-dominated fields like manufacturing and engineering.

Individual businesses can work to shift the perception of women’s roles in manufacturing from a rarity to being the norm. A large part of bridging this gender gap is educating the next generation of manufacturers. Your manufacturing company can create an internship program specifically for female candidates, to encourage women’s participation and secure their presence around the plant.

Having multiple women in leadership roles at a manufacturing company also has an effect on corporate culture. Interns and new hires notice how a company encourages the professional advancement of its women, and veteran female workers are motivated by the success of their peers in executive positions. This can be promoted by requiring gender parity amongst the candidates for an internal promotion.

3. Have a no-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination.

Simply put, having a no-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and/or discrimination in your workplace sends a strong message that your business advocates for its female workers, and does not value employees who deviate from this strict adhesion.

A true zero tolerance policy involves immediate termination for any individual found guilty of any harassment charges brought against them. It also requires investing in a top-notch HR system, capable of carrying out any investigations to follow up initial claims. These employees must be able to observe principles of confidentiality and discretion, and include protection of those who file a report.

Another aspect of this would be having a secure enough dynamic between managers and employees where an individual feels comfortable enough to report a serious problem when it occurs, and that doing so will not damage their career path nor professional reputation.

4. Sponsoring woman-to-woman mentorship programs.

Since manufacturing is defined as a male-dominated industry, another way to empower its women would be to offer opportunities for them to support each other. Mentoring programs can be conducted within one company, or between two or more companies in similar fields.

Mentorship programs offer employees the opportunity to share experiences and seek advice for challenges they may encounter in their professional lives. Studies of mentorship between women in engineering showed that these programs reduced anxiety in participants, and increased their self- assurance and motivation.

Leadership support of these programs is especially important because it develops the self-efficacy of women in an industry where they are underrepresented. Depending on the gender ratio of your manufacturing business and the several departments within it, a single woman may feel like she is her own support system. Mentoring programs act to supplement this.

5. Continue to improve your manufacturing technology.

Does this even have anything to do with women in manufacturing? Well yes, once you consider that traditionally women were limited in their asset to the industry because of the amount of physical work required. Heavy lifting is one of the most common reasons for needing a man to occupy a labor role.

“Advanced manufacturing is about using technology and not so much physical work,” says Millie Ramirez, a production supervisor at Carey Manufacturing, a company that is breaking the manufacturing mold because women outnumber men on the factory floor.

Modern machinery more so relies on machine operations to get the job done rather than physical labor. If heavy lifting may still be required, do not just assume you need a male; instead, list qualifications in your job posting so that capable women can apply.

 

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