The Outlook Is Improving for Women in Manufacturing

Despite inroads made in recent years, women still face an uphill battle in breaking through the glass ceiling of the manufacturing sector. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, females represent 47% of the entire workforce and 52% of all professionals and managers. However, less than 30% of the workers in the manufacturing industry are women. What steps can your company take to help bridge this gap?

female manufacturing professional holding a clipboard

Seeds of Change

Women have expanded their influence over the U.S. workforce in the 21st century. But progress has been slow in the traditionally male-dominated manufacturing sector. Fortunately, the attitude within the industry — along with the mindsets of many women — has been changing.

Notably, the manufacturing sector is experiencing the benefits of an integrated and inclusive workplace that embraces diverse viewpoints and novel approaches. Manufacturers have recognized that diversity can kick-start profits, spawn innovation and boost morale among employees.

This awareness has led to a conscious effort to encourage more women to enter the manufacturing field. As attitudes continue to change, women also are becoming more receptive to this type of career.

Previously, manufacturing work was perceived by many as dirty, dangerous and dull. But that perception is changing, thanks to a recent emphasis on cutting-edge technology and safety protocols.

Opportunities Abound

The manufacturing sector currently has many more job openings than there are qualified job applicants. Examples of available positions include technicians, machinists, programmers and assemblers, as well as white-collar positions ranging from marketing and sales to finance and cybersecurity.

The lack of skilled laborers is putting the squeeze on manufacturers. This situation has forced them to expand the scope of their traditional recruiting efforts and to offer more competitive compensation packages.

In fact, the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce confirms that a career in manufacturing can be financially rewarding. On average, manufacturing workers earn 21% more than the median income for all workers, and women in manufacturing earn 16% more than the median income for all workers. Unfortunately, however, women in manufacturing still earn only 71% of the median income for men in manufacturing.

Surveys show that women are attracted to more than just the financial rewards that this sector has to offer. Other benefits with high perceived value among female applicants include flexible work practices and mentorship programs.

5 Practical Solutions

Attracting and retaining more women for skilled positions in manufacturing is easier said than done. The following five best practices, generally advocated by the Manufacturing Institute, may help:

  1. Start at the top. Senior officers need to prioritize workplace diversity and communicate the benefits of that objective to their subordinates. Some organizations have even tied executive incentives to diversity and inclusion goals. Progress should be monitored and communicated throughout the organization. Transparency is essential to success.
  2. Remain flexible. Women typically value flexible work options. Consider shifting from a presence-driven culture to one that is more results-oriented. Enable employees to balance their work and personal lives. Increasing flexibility can go a long way towards retaining skilled workers and ultimately trickles down to the bottom line.
  3. Change the culture. Despite advances made by women since the days of Rosie the Riveter, gender discrimination — specifically the perception that men should be in charge — remains problematic in the manufacturing sector. Progressive companies address this bias through awareness training and other educational tools.
  4. Become a sponsor. Corporate sponsorships help women succeed. Sponsors serve as mentors, coaches and advocates. They can encourage an individual's progress and provide a clear understanding of the leadership qualities and technical skills required for specific positions.
  5. Target your audience. When recruiting prospective employees, it's important to zero in on specific groups. For example, your company might partner with vocational schools and K-12 schools that offer Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs. Encourage your female employees to take an active role in the recruitment process and to become role models for younger females that are hired or participate in any apprenticeship programs your company offers.

Final Thoughts

Hiring women can be a win-win situation. The manufacturing sector can provide significant job opportunities, financial rewards and flexible work arrangements that appeal to female workers. Plus, recruitment efforts that specifically target women can help your company fill open positions in today's tight labor market. And introducing more women to your management team can bring fresh insights and novel approaches that allow your company to take advantage of business opportunities and recognize potential threats that could impair its success.

Contact your financial advisors to evaluate whether your company's current compensation, training and recruiting practices are gender inclusive. A formal study can help identify shortcomings in your practices and highlight strategies to become a more diverse workplace.

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