Why More Women Aren't in Manufacturing
September 5, 2012
Although manufacturing and STEM-related fields have experienced steady growth in recent years, the number of women in these sectors has been on the decline. What can be done to bring more female employees into the manufacturing industries? There are several bright spots in the United States economy. One is high technology, also known as the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. These industries are some of the fastest-growing in the U.S., with employment expected to double by 2018. Another bright spot is manufacturing, with economic activity in that sector seeing growth every month for more than two years. Between 2010 and 2011, U.S. manufacturing added nearly a quarter million jobs, with many more to fill. A recent study from the Manufacturing Institute Despite these factors, the presence of women in STEM and manufacturing jobs seems to be on the decline. Correspondingly, the number of women in technology education programs is also heading down: between 2008 and 2009, women earning associate's degrees in STEM fields dropped by an astonishing 25 percent. A 2011 study last year by the National Women's Law Center Analysts and policymakers have been struggling to find the reasons behind the declining number of women in STEM fields. In response to findings from the Institute for Women's Policy Research Similar factors are cited for the gender gap in manufacturing education programs. A study conducted by Bayer In short, there is ample opportunity and need for workers in manufacturing and STEM fields, yet declining participation from women. It would seem that technology and manufacturing industry associations and employers need to begin actively seeking ways to bring more female workers into these fields. Manufacturing jobs are sometimes misrepresented as being repetitive, low-skilled and dull, not to mention requiring a lot of physical strength. But this is rarely the case, as computers, automation and the vastly increased complexity of modern production process require very highly skilled workers. As women graduate both high school and college in greater numbers than men, this may present unique opportunities for women in American manufacturing. Analysts say that young people need to be made aware that a manufacturing position today represents a profession and not simply a job. Of course, the message that women may not be as welcome in manufacturing isn't only about perception. A recent report from the International Trade Union Confederation The research, which was released on International Women's Day, examined women's wages in manufacturing in 43 countries, and while the gap was not as large in the U.S. as in some other nations, it was still significant. Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women's Law Center, told The Nation But with hundreds of thousands of open jobs to fill, manufacturing companies may find it necessary to not only improve their public relations but change their ways. Community outreach programs to schools and colleges could help to change girls' perceptions of manufacturing careers, as well as the implementation of zero-tolerance policies on sexual harassment. Another way to attract more women is to build more workplace flexibility into manufacturing jobs. For example, Indiana-based manufacturing Cummins, Inc. "There are certainly challenges in the manufacturing sector to both attract and retain women employees, including developing an approach to flexibility that will work in manufacturing. Without formal workplace flexibility policies adapted to fit the various manufacturing workplaces, women and men alike will continue to struggle with balancing work and family," the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes. Whatever the right combination of solutions may be, one thing is clear: U.S. manufacturing and technology companies cannot afford to ignore or marginalize female workers if they hope to grow along with their sectors' potential.