Women in Manufacturing: Why You Should Hire These Job-Seekers

woman operating a complex manufacturing machine

For hirers in the manufacturing industry, the demand for skilled and talented workers has never been higher. According to a 2019 report by Gallup, more than 2 million skilled workers are currently needed in United States manufacturing industries like aerospace and defense, automotive, processing, and industrial products. The Women in manufacturing 2017 study by Deloitte, the Manufacturing Institute and APICS found manufacturing executives report 6 out of 10 positions are currently open due to a gap in manufacturing skills.

One of the key ways to close this gap and retain a talented workforce is to focus on gender inclusivity. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, women accounted for 47% of total employees but represented only 30% of those in manufacturing. This is a slight 1% year-over-year increase in representation, but a clear gap remains.

The Benefits of Women in Manufacturing Roles

Besides filling roles, there are many other benefits to having more women in the manufacturing workforce. The Deloitte study of 600 women in manufacturing and 20 executives in manufacturing found gender diversity improves innovation, return on equity and profitability for manufacturing organizations. Additionally, when manufacturing employees see their employers making an effort in inclusion, they report better business performance in terms of ability to innovate. Manufacturing executives around the world rank talent as the top driver of manufacturing competitiveness.

Closing the gender gap in manufacturing is a way to combat a lack of employees while also making firms more profitable and innovative. Here are reasons why women are under-represented in the manufacturing industry, ways manufacturing companies can recruit more women in their workforces, and how to keep talented women in manufacturing roles.

Reasons for a Gender Gap in Manufacturing

There are many myths and stereotypes about the manufacturing industry in terms of women’s role in it.  A 2018 report from Forbes details multiple harrowing accounts of what it’s like to be a female worker in manufacturing, including multiple instances of sexual harassment and hostile and dangerous working conditions. These are greatly underreported in the industry by both victims and coworkers who witness it, according to Forbes.

Factors like these contribute to the outside view of manufacturing. On the inside, the Deloitte study revealed the following percentages of women who cited these reasons for leaving manufacturing:

  • Unattractive pay/income: 41%
  • Lack of promotion opportunities: 41%
  • Poor working relationships: 39%
  • Lack of work-life balance: 37%
  • Lack of challenging assignments: 36%

top reasons women leave manufacturing jobs

These reasons are consistent with Gallup research on what women want from their jobs. A Gallup study revealed the two most important workplace factors for women are the ability to do what they do best and work-life balance. The research firm recommends manufacturing businesses first learn what women want from manufacturing jobs, then recruit. Gallup research cites job flexibility, inclusiveness, respect in the workplace and the ability to be valued for strengths as top influencers for women job seekers.

The Deloitte study echoed these sentiments, with respondents saying opportunities for challenging assignments, work-life balance and attractive income were the top factors in keeping them happy in manufacturing roles. However:

  • Less than 15% of women surveyed believe the industry is accepting of family/personal commitments. Meanwhile, more than 40% of women are either responsible for the majority of or equally share responsibility for home responsibilities.
  • Nearly 72% of women in manufacturing believe they are underrepresented in their organization’s leadership team.
  • 87% believe the standards of performance in manufacturing roles are higher for women than they are men.

reasons women are unhappy in manufacturing roles

It’s important for manufacturers to communicate that they promote gender-inclusive values in their businesses early on to female students. The Deloitte study found only 29% of women think the school system actively or somewhat encourages female students to pursue careers in manufacturing. A lack of education about the potential in manufacturing and early recruiting may also be hurting the industry.

How Manufacturers Can Recruit Talented Women & Close the Gender Gap

Hiring more women in manufacturing roles is a way to attract more women, since it reflects a gender-inclusive culture. Deloitte recommends increased visibility of women leaders in manufacturing organizations to display gender inclusiveness to talent. To attract certified and qualified female candidates, it’s important to promote factors like benefits, flexibility, and culture.

As mentioned, promoting the value of a career in manufacturing early on can help create a pipeline of female talent. Organizations can send female leaders and professionals in roles like engineering to schools and career fairs to talk to the next generation of talent.

It’s also important to note that women are more selective when applying for jobs. A 2019 report by LinkedIn found women are 16% less likely than men to apply to a job after viewing it. Also, women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men.

It is up to manufacturing companies to position themselves in a way that makes them attractive employers to talented women. That includes:

  • Highlighting female leaders on a company website and in marketing materials
  • Promoting examples of gender inclusivity in job descriptions
  • Featuring factors that are important to female job seekers in job descriptions

Another reason why there’s a gender gap in manufacturing lies in current recruitment styles. The LinkedIn report found there is a gender bias for recruiters. When looking at candidates on LinkedIn, recruiters are 13% less likely to view a female profile in search and 3% less likely to send women emails after viewing their profiles.

Some ways to remove gender bias include removing key identifiers like names and photos from candidate applications before reviewing them. Firms can also work with a manufacturer staffing group that eliminates gender bias when recruiting and focuses on top talent and gender inclusivity.

Tips for Increasing Retention for Women in Manufacturing

Hiring female talent is one part of a wider strategy in closing the gender gap. Retention is also important. 

A PwC report on improving diversity and inclusion in manufacturing found while identifying a gender gap is the first step, setting goals to close the gap is essential. With goals in place, an organization can work to advance women and become more gender diverse. Manufacturing organizations must use analytics to capture data, assess and develop their talent pipeline. 

Men in manufacturing must be allies and advocates in the process. They need to be identified and engaged to support closing the diversity gap.

Having women in leadership roles in manufacturing is key. The Deloitte report found when women are in leadership roles in manufacturing, these percentages of people cite the following differences:

  • 88%: diverse perspectives in decision making
  • 84%: innovative and creative approaches and solutions
  • 74%: balanced organizational management
  • 49%: improved financial performance

benefits of women in manufacturing leadership pie chart

To get more women in leadership roles, manufacturing businesses must promote professional development and create paths toward career advancement. Creating mentorship programs can help increase retention of women.

Also, manufacturing businesses must work to create policies that benefit female workers. For example, Deloitte reports having maternity and paternity programs sends a strong message of inclusion, even though they may not affect a large percentage of employees.

The Importance of Work-Life Balance

The Deloitte report also shows one of the biggest challenges in manufacturing, particularly in production/assembly line work, is work-life balance. Organizations must promote that through efforts like advanced scheduling.

Another way manufacturing businesses can advance their gender inclusion efforts is to get involved with the Manufacturing Institute’s STEP women’s initiative. STEP is designed to support women in science, engineering, production and technology careers.

The STEP Forward program educates manufacturers on how to recruit and retain female workers through regional outreach events and an online community. The STEP Ahead program focuses on honoring female leaders in the manufacturing industry and includes an annual awards gala and associated leadership training program. So far, 932 women have been honored. 

Aligning with organizations like these can benefit manufacturing businesses in recruitment and retention.

Build Your Manufacturing Business by Hiring More Women

Hiring talented women in manufacturing provides countless benefits. Manufacturing businesses get the talent they need for open positions. Gender diversity increases innovation, job satisfaction for employees and sales. Businesses become more attractive for up-and-coming talent and job seekers.

To learn more about effective staffing strategies for manufacturing, download our free ebook “Everything You Need to Know About Manufacturing Staffing.” For more in-depth analysis of your organization’s needs, connect with TERRA Staffing Group.

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