With the fourth industrial revolution in full swing, manufacturing is undergoing massive changes. Robotics, additive printing, IIoT, artificial intelligence, and data science augment human capacity and transform manufacturing to be more competitive than ever.

Even with all these exciting developments in the industry, there remains a workforce shortage. In fact, manufacturing executives in the U.S. report that six out of 10 manufacturing jobs remain unfilled. Here in Canada, while 48 percent of the workforce are women, only 28 percent are part of the manufacturing workforce. According to Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), women hold less than 4.5 percent of all skilled trades jobs. They also account for just 8.3 percent of all jobs in transportation and heavy machinery operation, as well as 7.2 percent of jobs in supervisory and central control operation positions. Fewer than one in four jobs in STEM fields are held by women.

Why are women under-represented in manufacturing?

Women are leading the charge in education, earning post-secondary degrees at all levels and advancing professionally. We’re kicking ass and taking names… but in other fields.

Since there are plenty of skilled jobs in manufacturing, it would seem like a natural fit for this highly-skilled demographic. The logical conclusion would be that the future of manufacturing is certainly female. However, there remains a yawning gender gap. I saw this firsthand when I attended the world’s biggest manufacturing conference in the fall – I was a lone woman in a sea of men. So, if there are many women who are qualified and skilled, why aren’t they drawn to manufacturing?

The CME endeavoured to find out. Their survey highlighted the major barriers for women considering manufacturing jobs such as: sexism; male-centric workplace culture; limited opportunities for advancement; work-life balance issues; and a negative perception of manufacturing in general. Not a great look for manufacturing to be sure.

What can we do about it?

Deloitte, along with The Manufacturing Institute and APICS, recently surveyed more than 600 women in manufacturing to understand the reasons for gender gap and figure out how to close it.  It’s an illuminating report that’s worth a read. Based on their findings, here are some ways we can attract and retain this untapped workforce:

  1. Start early

Skilled trades and STEM careers have typically attracted more men then women. To encourage women to considering a career in manufacturing, we have to start earlier. It’s more than encouraging more females to consider STEM fields. It’s also about changing the way manufacturing is perceived and reflect it as a rewarding, high-skill, high pay career option. It would help to show women excelling in the field so that women can see themselves in that environment.

Take action: Put women at the forefront of marketing and recruitment efforts. Open the doors to young women to show your facility, debunk common manufacturing myths, communicate your values, and highlight female employees. Here’s a great example.

2. Develop a culture of inclusion:

A diverse workforce is not just good for workers, it’s good business. Companies that walk the talk and value diversity at all levels see the benefits of different perspectives. Diversity of thought encourages inclusion but also innovation, balance, and improved financial performance. It’s more than putting up a few posters in the lunchroom though.

Take action: Employers need to ask hard questions about their workplace, examine biases at every level, and hold the entire organization accountable.

3. Focus on work-life balance

It’s a fact that women carry most of the load in terms of family commitments and caregiving. However, in most manufacturing facilities, shift work is an unavoidable reality. This can limit women’s availability but also promotion opportunities.

Take action: Businesses should find creative ways to understand and accommodate a balanced work-life for women.  

4. Support professional development

In the Deloitte survey, women ranked promotion opportunities and interesting assignments as a top motivator to stay in the industry. It makes sense – a challenging career path with support from management is a great reason to stay in a job. Companies who invest in leadership, mentoring, and professional development for women will see higher rates of retention.

Take action: Invest in professional development and mentorship opportunities for women.  

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