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An Untapped Market: Women in Manufacturing

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Last year we wrote about the talent gap that manufacturers face when it comes to hiring skilled workers and what they are doing as an industry to fill that gap. An untapped market in manufacturing is women. Although women make up 47% of the U.S. labor force they only represent 29% of the manufacturing sector. This in light of the fact that women earn more than half of all Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Women are also advancing in their careers, holding more than half of all U.S. managerial and professional positions. So why aren’t they entering the manufacturing sector in greater numbers and how effective are manufacturers in attracting women to the industry?

The Manufacturing Institute, APICS, and Deloitte took a look at the state of women in manufacturing. They interviewed more than 600 women working in manufacturing and conducted nearly 20 manufacturing executive interviews to explore how effectively companies are attracting, recruiting, and retaining women, and what should be done to close the gender gap.

The benefits of women in manufacturing
There are big rewards for manufacturers to reap in having women on their leadership team, including helping firms to deliver:

  • Diverse perspectives in decision making
  • Innovative and creative approaches and solutions
  • Balanced organizational management
  • Improved financial performance 

The Deloitte study emphasizes that when employees believe their organization is committed to inclusion, they report better business performance in the ability to innovate and enjoyed higher returns and superior average valuation with strong female leadership at the helm. 

Recruiting and retaining female talent
The key to bolstering manufacturing as a career opportunity for women begins at home and in our schools, with many schools, according to Deloitte, upping their game in the last two years to attract women to the industry. One executive interviewed in the study says, “Engage with people at a younger age. Female engineers going to a school and talking about manufacturing work is very impactful and sends a strong message about manufacturing.” 

The Manufacturing Institute is also taking proactive measures to attract women to the industry with its “Step Ahead Women in Manufacturing” initiative, which serves to mentor and recognize women while also leading research efforts tackling the important topic of a woman’s role in the sector. In fact, the Manufacturing Institute has recognized 672 women with STEP/Emerging Leader awards during the last five years. These women and others serve as female ambassadors for the industry.

Retaining women in the industry is another big area manufacturers have to focus on and can do so by aligning their employee policies with the needs and demands of women in the workforce. Respondents cited attractive pay, challenging and interesting work, career progression, work/life balance, and company culture as the issues that make them stay or leave a job. There are some generational differences, however, in terms of how these issues are prioritized that need to be taken into consideration. For example, Gen Y places a bit more emphasis on work/life balance and career progression while the older generations look for opportunities for challenging assignments and at the company culture. 

The obstacles in the manufacturing industry in attracting more women to the sector include certain perceived gaps as outlined by the respondents in Deloitte’s report. This includes:

  • Fewer than 15% of women surveyed believe the industry is very accepting of family/personal commitments and allows them to meet these commitments without impairing their careers.
  • Nearly three quarters (72%) of the women surveyed believe they are underrepresented in their organization’s leadership team, with a significantly higher share of junior management (78%) believing they’re underrepresented when compared to senior management.
  • 71% surveyed believe standards of performance differ for men and women.
  • 87% believe the standards are higher for women.
  • 42% of those believe the pay gap between men and women in the industry has been significantly/moderately shrinking over the last five years.

Forging ahead
Formal and informal mentorships, flexible work practices and improving the visibility of key leaders who serve as role models can best serve manufacturers in attracting and retaining women at these companies.  This means moving the needle on diversity and inclusion in adding women to the company’s leadership ranks. It also means fostering a culture that sparks diversity in the decision-making process, and promoting professional development. 

Managing General Agent/Underwriting Manager RPS is committed to the future success of the manufacturing industry, providing custom insurance solutions to address their exposures and minimize risks.

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