Women make up 47 percent of the labor force, but only 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce, Deloitte reports. What are manufacturers doing to fill this gender gap?
We pooled our resources to show why it’s crucial for manufacturing organizations to attract, retain and advance their share of talented women.
Women in Manufacturing: What holds them back?
Women are increasingly outperforming men in acquiring advanced skills, yet they’re under-represented in both the manufacturing workforce and the specialized STEM fields most in demand in today’s industrial economy.
Misperceptions about manufacturing have impacted women’s desires to join its ranks. A study from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute cited the perception of a male-favored culture as a key driver of women’s underrepresentation in the industry. There is a sense that historical gender bias excludes women from core managerial roles, such as production supervisors and operations managers, which are key to climbing the industry ladder.
Let’s take a look at how the manufacturing industry can benefit from women.
5 Reasons Manufacturing Needs Women
1. Organizations can be more competitive. CEOs and manufacturing executives identify talent-driven innovation as the number one determinant of competitiveness. Research shows leadership diversity can be a key contributor to innovation. With that in mind, recruiting and retaining women in manufacturing can contribute significantly to a company’s competitiveness.
Catalyst, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business, found that Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women officers had a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return than companies with fewer women executives.
2. Manufacturing organizations should leverage untapped talent. Across the total U.S. labor force, women earn more than half of the associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Once in the workforce, they are advancing in their careers, holding more than half of all U.S. managerial and professional positions — except in manufacturing.
“In the United States, women consistently outperform men in earning higher education credentials,” notes Tom Deusterberg of the Aspen Institute. “In the first decade of the new millennium, women accounted for about 62 percent of all associate degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 63 percent of master’s degrees and 53 percent of Ph.D. degrees.”
Women are manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent. The percentage of women in manufacturing leadership roles lags behind other U.S. industries, yet the pool of experienced professionals is significant.
3. Manufacturers can create a more flexible work environment. Flexible work environments are commonly ranked among the most important workplace amenities for women. Work-life balance (or the perceived lack thereof) may be a factor deterring women from the manufacturing industry.
“We need to develop appropriate and innovative ways to allow workers the opportunities to effectively manage their work and family lives,” says Sara Manzano Diaz, director of the Women’s Bureau. “Without formal flexibility policies adapted to fit the various manufacturing workplaces, women and men alike will continue to struggle with balancing work and family.”
4. More diversity means a lower intent to leave. Researchers found that decreased turnover intentions were associated with employees’ positive perceptions of a company’s “diverse climate.” Researchers also found that a pro-diversity work climate correlated with lower turnover intentions among employees, especially strong for men and women.
For the greatest impact, manufacturers should tailor and measure strategies and programs to improve diversity and inclusion of women accordingly.
5. Manufacturers can pave the way for the younger generation. Despite an underrepresentation, here’s the good news: today’s organizations can play a big part in the future of women in manufacturing. Development efforts such as increasing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education has been an extremely important effort in fixing perceptions.
“First, we must reframe perceptions of traditional American manufacturing as unprogressive and male-dominated, to high-tech and high-paying, in which both men and women can and do thrive,” says Natalie Schilling, human resources vice president at Alcoa. “Next, we need to make sure that manufacturing companies are workplaces organized to support women’s success. Corporate leadership must set aggressive goals to proactively create a diverse employee base.”
A need for change
“Attracting and keeping women in manufacturing is critical to the growth of U.S. industry,” Mary Gannon, senior editor of Design World, said in an interview. “We hear often how the lack of skilled labor is a problem for manufacturers, so what better way to fill those jobs than with women who are hard-working, creative and critical thinkers? Additionally, having a diverse workforce, comprised of men and women, will ensure you have different mindsets focusing on problems in different ways.”
Approximately 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled right now because companies can’t find qualified workers to fill them, and women are necessary to fill this gap. Part of creating a conducive workplace is cultural — and we, as manufacturers can demonstrate that we are responsive to the organization’s need for women. How do women play a role in your organization? We’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter @AppleRubber.