Help Wanted: Manufacturing Seeks its Other Half
We asked SME’s top women leaders why they think there aren’t more women in manufacturing and what can be done to attract more
By Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
Did you know that just under 25% of the manufacturing workforce is made up of women?
Given that nearly half of the total US workforce is made up of women, and more than half of all college graduates are women, is it any surprise that manufacturing has a shortage of qualified workers?
In a report on the issue of women in manufacturing, released earlier this year, Deloitte surveyed more than 600 women working in industry. More than half, 51%, said the main driver of women’s underrepresentation “is the perception of a male-favored culture” and 80% said manufacturers could improve their efforts to recruit women.
Those were just a few of the findings from the Deloitte study—“Untapped resource: How manufacturers can attract, retain, and advance talented women”—which was sponsored by The Manufacturing Institute, SME and the University of Phoenix.
Ultimately, Deloitte concluded that women are the manufacturing industry’s largest pool of untapped talent.
So Manufacturing Engineering decided to ask some women who are leaders in manufacturing why there aren't more and how to improve the numbers. SME employees all, they are: Director, Industry Strategy & Events Deb Holton; Director of Training & Development Jeannine Kunz; and Industry Manager, Workforce Development Pamela Hurt.
Manufacturing Engineering: Why do you think there are so few women in manufacturing today?
Deb Holton: Although girls are as equally competent in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math as boys, they are not equally encouraged to pursue these subject areas. It was never explained to me that STEM careers were knowledge fields where creativity was valued, in strong demand and highly compensated. Also, there is a perception that manufacturing facilities are ‘man caves’ where swimsuit calendars hang from tool boxes. Reality: we still live in a ‘man’s world’ in many industries, with women currently holding 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.2% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions.
Jeannine Kunz: I agree. I believe many women have been encouraged by counselors, teachers and parents to pursue studies and careers more oriented to liberal arts. There used to be few to no activities for young girls to build technical skills, focus on problem-solving, or simply learn to make things. When I reviewed summer camp activities for my kindergarten-aged daughter, I had to search high and low to find a camp that was STEM-based. I am happy to see that now, just a couple of years later, there are more of these camps.
Pamela Hurt: Also, there are too few role models in leadership positions. I was born into a John Deere family and married into a Caterpillar family, so I clearly understood from a very young age that manufacturing is a desirable way to spend your life and build a career. Parents do not encourage their kids—let alone their girls—to go into manufacturing.
ME: What role do you think stereotypes might play in keeping women from pursuing careers in manufacturing and in keeping manufacturers from pursuing women for open positions?
JK: I think it has a significant impact. The inaccurate depiction of manufacturing as dirty and dangerous has been a barrier to young girls entering the field. It is not easy to change the brand image of a profession or an industry. The stereotypes of men and women also play a role in the lack of women in leadership positions. Sadly, some employers still question how a woman can raise a family and successfully hold a leadership position in a company. The truth is, times have changed.
DH: I’m going to step into the ‘way-back machine’ and think about how movies depict manufacturing careers: There’s ‘Norma Rae,’ Jennifer Beals in ‘Flashdance’—was it really better for her character to be a dancer than a welder?—and then good luck finding any more. Certainly, stereotypes play a role, but life is not a movie. It is the responsibility of those in the industry to break free of these stereotypes and share the truth about careers in industry—that they’re rewarding, lucrative and creative. We need to get young women interested in the actual mechanics of ‘making things’ and how exciting and fun that can be. Programs in schools like Project Lead the Way will help.
PH: The other stereotype that has to be tackled is the long-held erroneous belief that girls are not as strong in math and science skills as boys. This has been proven to be incorrect but years of legacy stereotypes mean that we have at least a 30-year gap of girls being guided away from STEM careers.
ME: Deloitte found that women who work in manufacturing do, indeed, find it interesting and financially rewarding. As women who work in manufacturing, what do you think the biggest misperception women have about working in industry?
PH: There is the misperception that manufacturing jobs are low-skill and therefore have no upward career path. It is important to get the message out that there are more high-tech, high-skilled jobs available. These jobs can provide a solid income if the necessary skills are acquired and maintained.
DH: Today’s advanced manufacturing is very high tech, IT oriented, team-based, with increased automation and systems focus.
JK: Women want careers that make a difference. To a certain extent, that is what drove large numbers of women to the fields of nursing and teaching. Unfortunately, young girls are not learning that manufacturing drives innovation and economic progress, and makes a difference in every person’s life.
ME: Deloitte found women underrepresented in every capacity of manufacturing. Women held 2% of CEO roles, 14% of director seats and 11% of executive positions. What can or should be done to improve these figures?
JK: Non-manufacturing employers are doing a better job in diversifying their leadership teams. However, there are some recent signs of progress. Earlier this year, Marillyn Hewson became CEO and president of Lockheed Martin. We need to highlight these accomplishments. And the good news is young girls entering elementary school today are starting a journey in life which looks much different than those of us who are near retirement or mid-career now. Those young girls can’t imagine a day when women didn’t have the right to vote and certainly were not CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
DH: This goes to my ‘man’s world’ comment earlier. There are two forces at work here—the ‘system’ and what we can do to support and advance our fellow women in industry. We as women in industry should mentor and support other women, and also encourage them to seek out mentors—both male and female—that are experienced in this field.
ME: Only one in five women surveyed said manufacturing does a good job representing itself to women. How can manufacturers do better in this regard?
PH: In “Untapped Resource,” workplace initiatives were rated by the women surveyed. The three top-rated initiatives were flexible work practices, customized learning and development programs, and identifying and increasing the visibility of key leaders who serve as role models for employees. Manufacturers should embrace the top-rated practices.
DH: Also, the more we can share the truth about advanced manufacturing, show women in industry roles that young people can model themselves after, and provide ‘on ramps’ for young women into the industry, the more successful we will be. Parents are also a large piece of this, and communicating our message to them is extremely important.
ME: What do women need to do to cultivate a career in this male-dominated industry and why should they bother?
JK: Women have to “bother” or we will never end the vicious cycle. Women in manufacturing and certainly women in leadership will breed more women in the field. There is a severe skills gap and labor shortage plaguing manufacturers and it is going to get worse before it gets better. There is an outstanding and untapped talent pool when you consider women represent half of the workforce.
DH: And, really, why let the guys have all the fun? Seriously, these are highly-paid careers with tremendous opportunity. It’s important that women pursue these opportunities for their future growth and career progression.
PH: That’s one of the biggest reasons: Most pink collar jobs do not pay the same wages as manufacturing does. Manufacturing jobs have always been one of the quickest ways to build a strong middle-class lifestyle—and they still are. As more and more women are called upon to help support themselves and their families, manufacturing is one of the surest ways to earn a salary that can do that. ME
This article was first published in the July 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.