How Manufacturing Can Attract More Women

A recent survey by the organization Women in Manufacturing and accounting and advisory firm Plante Moran highlighted a conundrum facing the modern manufacturing industry. This survey, which polled two groups of women (women who currently work in manufacturing, and women between the ages of 17-24), found that while the majority of women who work in manufacturing are happy with the industry and would recommend it to young women looking for a career, most women outside the industry still hold outdated views about the industry, which stop many of them from seriously considering manufacturing as a potential career path.[i]

There are many reasons why the manufacturing sector should be worried by a generation of women holding attitudes about it that keep them out of the industry, and not all of them have to do with gender disparity or fairness. Manufacturing should be interested in attracting women based on pure numbers: Companies across the industry report consistent problems with employee retention and understaffing, with one third of them saying they have 10 or more vacant positions.[ii] Any industry facing such problems finding enough employees should not be letting its potential hiring pool be cut in half by failing to fix its image in the eyes of a new generation of young women. But, as long as manufacturing lets women believe the outdated ideas about it that keep them away, that’s exactly what is happening in the industry.

Perception vs. Reality

The Women in Manufacturing poll found that most women working in the industry were not only happy with the industry, but also believed that the industry offered the opportunities young women looked for in a career:

  • 74% of women in manufacturing said that the industry offered them multiple career paths, while 82% said that their work was both interesting and challenging.
  • 50% of those same women said that the compensation is the most significant benefit of the job, while more than half said manufacturing was a leading industry for job growth for women.

In the same poll, young women ages 17-24 said that compensation (salary and benefits) and challenging/interesting work were their number one priorities when it came to looking for a career. Given that the vast majority of women working in manufacturing felt positively about both those issues, it would seem that manufacturing and today’s young women would be a good fit. Unfortunately, young women looking for a career felt otherwise:

  • When asked what they felt the top five career fields that offered the most opportunity for young women, less than 10% chose manufacturing.
  • When women outside the sector were asked whether or not they believed manufacturing offered interesting/challenging work, less than half said “yes.”

Clearly, there is a wide gap between the reality of the manufacturing industry and what the next generation of potential female workers believe about it. While the women who work in the industry feel that it is a welcoming place with good compensation and promising career paths, those outside the industry feel the opposite.

What can the manufacturing industry do to change this perception? In the same survey, women currently working in manufacturing were asked how they felt employers could better attract new female employees. When asked if they felt their employers were addressing retention and advancement of women, 62% said that their employers’ efforts in those areas were either “inconsistent,” or nonexistent. In addition, two-thirds of women in manufacturing said they were not aware of any industry programs addressing the retention and advancement of women in the industry.

In order to attract women, the manufacturing industry needs to show a commitment to addressing women’s concerns and beliefs about the industry. Until relatively recently, women were discouraged from entering STEM fields, and career fields like manufacturing were often hard places for enterprising women to succeed. And, according to the young women of today, the legacy of those days still remains. It’s manufacturing’s responsibility to show women that manufacturing is an industry where they are welcome and able to succeed. This can come in the form of increased recruitment efforts, work policies that attract women (flexible hours, family leave, etc.), and other efforts that show young women that the manufacturing industry is interested in them and their efforts.

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How Manufacturing Can Attract More Women