Industryweek 23744 Women Worker 08092017

Misconceptions of U.S. Manufacturing Hinder Women’s Job Prospects

Aug. 9, 2017
Recruitment starts by creating a welcoming company culture that encourages gender diversity and provides equal footing for women.

In 2016, women accounted for just 29% of all U.S. manufacturing jobs. When you consider that women make up 47% of the entire U.S. workforce, that’s an alarmingly low number. What’s even more alarming is that the problem has nothing to do with job shortages. Instead, manufacturing is suffering from a significant shortage of skilled workers and ingrained misconceptions of male-dominated industry steeped in tradition.

During the next ten years, 3.5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs will be created and approximately 2 million roles will go unfilled. The industry has gone from producing 28% of the world’s goods in 1985, down to 18.2%. Clearly, something needs to change.

Gender diversity, combined with a skilled talent pool could be the answer to manufacturing growth. A 2015 study by Deloitte found that companies with gender diversity were 15% “more likely to outperform” their bottom line potential. That means gender diverse work environments have the potential to increase revenue and profits.

To achieve gender diversity, certain misperceptions that discourage women from entering manufacturing roles must be addressed and removed. Chief among those misperceptions are these three:

1.      Manufacturing is labor intensive work suited only for men

2.      There’s no work-life flexibility

3.      Manufacturing jobs are low-skill, lower-class jobs

1. Manufacturing is labor intensive work suited only for men

Manufacturing from the 1940’s is no longer the industry standard. Automation, robotics and a focus on efficiency have changed the game dramatically. Gone are the days when backbreaking labor was required to build a single automobile.

In today’s modern manufacturing world, STEM skills are more valuable than physical strength. Because U.S. manufacturing has traditionally been male-dominated, there’s a strong perception that women aren’t welcome or can’t do the job men can. That’s simply not the case.

2. There’s no work-life flexibility

When most people think about manufacturing, they picture a massive factory filled with tired, sweaty workers who labor according to strict timelines and production needs. Again, the industry has shifted.

While you may still be required to punch a timecard or complete a repetitive role day after day, career advancement opportunities are available with various programs in place to ensure the health and happiness of the workforce.

3. Manufacturing jobs are low-skill, lower-class jobs

In 2015, the average U.S. manufacturing employee earned $81,289 each year with benefits. Additionally, manufacturing jobs are becoming increasingly reliant on skilled workers with strong STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) abilities.

Still sound like a lower-class job? Far from being low-skill, manufacturing roles are some of the most technical, complicated positions in the U.S. job market.

Addressing the Problem

Increasing the number of women in the U.S. manufacturing workforce requires using better recruitment tactics with retainment plans and advancement options.

Recruitment starts by creating a welcoming company culture that encourages gender diversity and provides equal footing for women. Sexist attitudes can’t be allowed to exist in these environments. To retain skilled female workers companies must foster a relationship with their employees. Training programs, mentorship and successful role models will go a long way towards removing the barriers to women’s success in manufacturing. Career advancements should be based solely on performance and culture fit.

Several U.S. organizations are actively seeking to improve the opportunities for women in manufacturing, including The Manufacturing Institute’s STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production) Ahead initiative. The program “serves to mentor and recognize women while also leading research efforts” which deal with gender diversity in the industry.

Equality in the workplace is paramount to successfully increasing women’s role in U.S. manufacturing. Company cultures need to eliminate gender hostility and focus on nurturing skilled women with an interest in STEM careers. With programs like the STEP Ahead initiative, women are slowly but surely beginning to make progress within the U.S. manufacturing industry.

Ron Tosh is chief operations officer at The Ant Group. With a programming background in technical organizations, Tosh’s experience has enabled him to develop insights into every aspect of business operations. The ‘people’ aspect is integral to Tosh’s approach, with great skill recognizing potential, creating opportunities and valuing the impact that teams and individuals can have on commercial performance.

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