Industry Market Trends

Friday Focus: 5 Ways to Connect More Women to Manufacturing

Jun 21, 2013

When it comes to manufacturing sector employment, women are falling behind men. A look at recent statistics reveals that even with the expansion of 530,000 jobs between February 2010 and April 2013, women actually lost 28,000 jobs during that same period. The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee Report, released by Vice Chair and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, and a recent report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute highlight several solutions to attract more women to the manufacturing sector.

According to the latest available data, compiled in 2012 for the economic committee report, women account for just 27.1 percent of the manufacturing workforce. That's the lowest percentage since 1971. Compare that to the peak in 1990, when women's share of manufacturing employment was 32 percent. And, as the report notes, even as manufacturing jobs climbed back from recessionary levels in recent years, women were not part of such gains.

The percentage of women in manufacturing dips even more in non-administrative manufacturing jobs. While women account for over 62 percent of office and administrative support in the industry, they only represent 19.4 percent of the transportation and material-moving portion of the industry and just 6.5 percent of the natural resources, construction, and maintenance.

Top Factors Holding Women Back from Industry Jobs

Part of the challenge, the report notes, is that manufacturing has a tainted reputation, with only 56 percent of Americans believing that manufacturing jobs are "clean and safe." There is also the notion that manufacturing is mostly a hard-labor sector and a male-favored industry.

Parental influence also plays a major part in the representation of women in industry. While 70 percent of approximately 600 women in the manufacturing industry would encourage their sons to join the sector, just 55 percent would encourage their daughters to pursue a manufacturing career, despite the fact that manufacturing jobs have higher hourly compensation - 17 percent more - than in other industries.

Attracting More Women to Manufacturing

The Joint Economic Committee Report and another report, Untapped resource: How manufacturers can attract, retain, and advance talented women, released by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, highlights several solutions that can increase women's role in manufacturing, listed below, along with a few examples of initiatives in action.

1. Foster more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and participation for girls in elementary school. This can generate interest in diverse topics at a very young age. Initiatives such as STEM summer camps can help foster interest among all children, and other efforts, such as The Girl Scout program for STEM, educates through cooperative learning. The Girl Scouts organization explains that girls express more interest in STEM when they see how their work can help others and make a difference. Still another initiative, Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, can help educate and foster interest through public events and engineering sessions.

Those with celebrity status can also make a difference. During a recent interview with CNN, Chelsea Clinton emphasized that young girls need stronger role models in industry, namely STEM, and explained how girls fall off the industry radar even before they reach working age.

"At the fourth grade level, girls, at the same percentages as boys, say they're interested in engineering or math or astrophysics, but by eighth grade that has dropped precipitously," she told CNN. "I think that they're not seeing role models. They're seeing boys that are astronauts, they're seeing boys who are engineers, they're seeing boys who start Facebook or Google, and they're not seeing girls. It's really hard imagining yourself as something that you don't see, particularly when you're a kid."

2. Get more companies involved with community colleges and vocational programs. By integrating trade-specific credentials with formal degrees, women can have a better pathway into manufacturing careers, and employers should be proactive in recruiting women from such education programs, according to the Joint Economic Committee Report. Additionally, the Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute report details how employers can recruit STEM students, citing that "Solutions to Recruit Technical Women," by the Anita Borg Institute, lists the top universities for female STEM graduates.

3. Generate and promote more female manufacturing leaders. According to the committee report, women hold only 17 percent of board seats and just 6 percent are CEOs, even though they are 30 percent of the manufacturing labor force. Deloitte and  the Manufacturing Institute paint an even bleaker picture, citing that women represent 2 percent of CEOs in manufacturing and 14.3 percent of board members. Instilling and promoting more diversity within manufacturing companies can provide greater chances for women to climb into leadership roles in manufacturing. The Manufacturing Institute advises that companies should keep their female leaders "visibly engaged" during recruitment efforts.

The Manufacturing Institute's STEP initiative honors women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and production (hence the acronym) with awards, and the organization just recently announced that nominations are now open for the second STEP Awards.

4. Increase mentorships for women. When asked which talent programs and tactics were most effective, women in manufacturing reported that both formal and informal mentorship and sponsorship programs had a higher impact than diversity training.

Fostering working relationships can also promote visibility of women in the sector and give women in all types of manufacturing positions the support that they need to grow, according to the Joint Economic Committee.

5. Get Proactive in Confronting Bias. To overcome bias, the Manufacturing Institute notes how some companies practice targeted awareness training. Such efforts help build C-level awareness so that executives can actively "adjust behaviors" and "decision-making processes." The organization wrote, "These trainings uncover the drivers of each individual's thought process, highlights how unconscious biases impact key decisions, and provides strategies to create a more inclusive workplace."

What are more solutions to connecting women to industry? Let us know in the comments section or send us a message @Career_TN on Twitter.