Women comprise 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, earn more than half of associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees and hold more than half of all managerial and professional positions in the U.S., yet they make up less than one-quarter of the manufacturing sector’s workforce. Women in Manufacturing Founder and Executive Director Allison Grealis shares her thoughts regarding this disparity and how to overcome it.
Why aren’t the numbers of women in manufacturing higher? What’s keeping women out, or why are they choosing to stay out?
We know that women are underrepresented in manufacturing not because they are not able, but because they still believe the manufacturing field is a better fit for men. The biggest challenge women face when considering the manufacturing sector is the untrue stigma that surrounds manufacturing today. Too often, women still think of it as their father’s manufacturing. They think that manufacturing is dirty, dark, or dangerous. But manufacturing today is generally very high-tech and involves advanced technology and automation. It is much more about brains than brawn.
How do the priorities of women working in manufacturing and of young women considering their career options align with the opportunities within the sector?
A recent survey Women in Manufacturing conducted with Plante Moran found that among women aged 17 to 24, interesting and challenging work and high earning potential were top priorities as these young women contemplate future career paths.
Among women currently employed in the manufacturing industry, the survey found that 82 percent reported that the field offers interestingand challenging work. Seventy-four percent agreed the industry offers multiple job roles for women, and more than half agreed that manufacturing is a leading industry for job growth. One-half believes that good compensation is a benefit of the sector. These priorities align very well with the opportunities manufacturing affords.
When we talk to women in the manufacturing sector today, the thing we hear most often about why they like their jobs is that the work is exciting. Manufacturing, our members have told us, provides the opportunity to work with emerging technologies and offers the chance to learn new skills … It really comes down to simple math. The high number of women who are pleased with their jobs in manufacturing plus the high number of open manufacturing jobs equals a unique opportunity to attract more top-tier female talent to the manufacturing sector.
It’s also well documented that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace, and many recent studies have shown that organizations with larger percentages of women in leadership positions outperform their competition.
But those outdated perceptions of manufacturing are hard to overcome, especially if women remain under-represented among manufacturing leadership positions. Survey results found that over 50 percent of women felt having very few to no women currently in executive or management positions was a primary obstacle in the retention and advancement of women.
There are many ways companies can capitalize on the opportunities to invest in women and break down barriers. Many of the successful female leaders in manufacturing today indicate they had an internal champion or role model. Mentorship is important. Building a solid infrastructure for a supportive community also is important because we often hear from our members that they were not planning on a career in manufacturing until someone along the way recognized their talent and encouraged them.
In addition, competitive salaries, modern workplaces that offer challenging and stimulating assignments and the chance to work with advanced and emerging technologies, flexible work schedules, job sharing, programs to promote careers in manufacturing. These all move us beyond the negative stereotypes and attract diverse and talented workers.