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Why Diversity, Women on the Job is Good for the Future of Manufacturing

Department of Labor (DOL) statistics show that while women make up 47% of the workforce overall, they comprise only 27% of manufacturing jobs. Moreover, according to research by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, the proportion of women in leadership roles in manufacturing companies also lags behind other U.S. industries. This underrepresentation of women in the sector continues, even with the resurgence of manufacturing in an improved economy. In addition, the research shows that over the next 10 years the manufacturing industry will need to fill 3.4 million jobs, mostly due to the influx of Baby Boomers retiring, and of those jobs, only 1.4 million can be filled by the current workforce.

How can manufacturers bridge this gender gap while also work toward meeting the anticipated job growth on the horizon?

First, let’s take a look at why the gender gap exists in the manufacturing sector. The principal driver behind underrepresentation of women in manufacturing is due to the perception of a male-favored culture throughout the sector. The Deloitte-Manufacturing Institute study states, “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.” Another factor contributing to the lack of woman in manufacturing is that the industry as a whole is not doing a good job of presenting itself to women candidates. The study, based on interviews with more than 600 women in manufacturing jobs, shows this sentiment was even stronger among those individuals with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, implying that manufacturing careers are being overlooked by the well-educated talent pool needed to drive product innovation and competitiveness.

The case to employ women in manufacturing is strong. Women are manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent and as such can help fill the estimated 2 million-employee shortfall over the next decade. The majority of these jobs (6 of 10) will be unfilled due to the skills gap.  “With women representing less than one-third of the manufacturing workforce, it is clear that manufacturers are missing out on a critical talent pool, which could aid remarkably in closing the skills gap,” cites the Deloitte-Manufacturing Institute study. In addition, diversity positively contributes to competitiveness and innovation, and organizations with diverse leadership are found to be more profitable. A study by Catalyst, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and business, found that Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women officers had a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% higher total return than companies with fewer women executives.

Attracting, retaining women employees

In order to develop a plan to attract and retain women in the manufacturing sector, it’s essential to understand what they are looking for in a career. More than two-thirds of the Deloitte-Manufacturing Institute survey participants cited opportunities for challenging and interesting assignments, attractive pay and work-life balance as reasons to work and continue to remain in manufacturing. They would consider leaving the sector due to poor working relationships, lack of promotion opportunities and low income/pay.

To help attract more women to manufacturing, most survey participants feel that the industry needs to provide flexible work practices, formal and informal mentorship programs, and improve the visibility of key women leaders who serve as role models. In addition, many say that the industry must broaden its talent efforts to include K-12 outreach. They recommend that companies actively support school initiatives that increase young women’s interest in obtaining a technical education in order to meet the manufacturing industry’s long-term talent requirements. This includes companies investing money in organizations that push STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to girls at the school level – before they are ready to enter the workforce.

Apprenticeship programs are also an effective way of attracting women to the industry. For example, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) received grant funding to train 1,000 new apprentices and 542 up-skilled incumbent workers in 12 high-growth occupations in the Advanced Manufacturing and other high-growth sectors. DWD partners include the Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), which will provide technical assistance and pre-apprenticeship programs to ensure women have a fair shot at these opportunities. The Marshall University Research Corporation’s Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing received grant funding to build a National Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program, with the goal of expanding existing innovative apprenticeships and promoting advanced manufacturing pre-apprenticeships for women, transitioning military personnel, and disadvantaged youth.

Deloitte also provides the following strategies for manufacturing firms to implement:

  • Begin at the top to foster a cultural change. Senior leaders and management must be committed to making diversity and inclusion a business priority and must lead by example.
  • Create a more flexible workplace environment. Manufacturers that rethink when and where work gets done will have a competitive edge in the talent war. The increasing demand for workplace flexibility is a trend that crosses genders and spans generations – with women, men, Gen Y, and Baby Boomers desiring more flexibility to balance their work and personal lives. Manufacturers should consider shifting from a “presence-driven” culture to a “results-driven” culture. Many leading companies recognize and reward individuals and teams who drive results, regardless of when and where the work is being done. These companies are providing support for this cultural shift by training managers on techniques for leading and evaluating the performance of virtual teams. Also, customized career paths serve to help promote a company’s flexibility.
  • Improve the employer brand to recruit women. You can do this by showcasing gender diversity during college campus career fairs by sending women – executives, if possible – as recruiters.
  • Work toward improving the industry’s image. This is something we previously discussed at length and provided several recommendations for manufacturers to enhance their own brand to attract talent.

In addition, the industry itself has undertaken several initiatives to refresh and reboot its image, including the Manufacturing Institute’s “Dream It. Do It.” program, a national career awareness and recruitment program for manufacturers that includes national and local activities to engage, educate, and employ the next generation of skilled manufacturing talent. There is also the annual Manufacturing Day, with manufacturers opening their doors to their communities with plant tours and engagement activities.

About Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services

The future growth and strength of the manufacturing industry is our focus at Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services (PMIS). We provide risk management solutions to address and mitigate exposures and provide the insurance coverages needed in the event of a loss or accident. For more information about our manufacturing insurance solutions, please contact us at 855.910.5788.



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