Volume 16 | Issue 2 | Year 2013

It’s the 21st century conundrum: The manufacturing industry is resurging, but talent remains in deficit.
As many as 600,000 manufacturing jobs remain unfilled, reports Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. Indeed, 70 percent of manufacturers report a moderate to severe talent shortage.

A human resource remains untapped: women.

While women represent nearly half (46.6 percent) of the total US labor force, they only comprise a quarter (24.8 percent) of the durable goods manufacturing workforce.

Manufacturers still struggle to attract female candidates, despite efforts to open more career opportunities and initiate talent-development programs.

Why? In 2012, Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute set out to find the answer. To understand why manufacturing isn’t attracting and advancing talented women, the entities surveyed more than 600 women across functional manufacturing roles and levels, to gain their perspectives.

Respondent Recommendations
“Improve the external image of the industry” was survey respondents’ number-one recommendation for manufacturers looking to improve their ability to attract, retain and advance women.

Problems perceived (female perspective) include:

  • Only 20 percent of respondents believe that manufacturing currently does a good job of presenting itself to female candidates;
  • More than half (51 percent surveyed) cite the perception of a male-favored culture to be the main driver in the underrepresentation of women in manufacturing;
  • Eighty percent of respondents believe that manufacturers need to improve efforts to recruit women.

Tap a Resource
Unfilled jobs amount to an increasing crisis, one that the sector needs to address head on. Future success is at risk.

Tap the untapped resource, Deloitte advises. The organization outlines steps manufacturers should take now to attract, recruit, retain and promote female workers.

  • Start at the Top – There is a sense that historical gender bias has excluded women in manufacturing from core managerial roles. Combating this bias requires a cultural change. This begins in the C-suite. For Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiatives and programs to gain traction throughout an organization, senior leaders must be aligned on D&I as a business priority and must visibly lead by example.
  • Address Gender Bias Head-on: Women’s advancement in the workplace is hindered by “conscious and unconscious mental associations about women, men, and leaders,” with people associating men with more of the traits that connote leadership. Leading organizations, across industries, are addressing these unconscious biases through targeted awareness training, designed to build executive awareness of their own biases so they can consciously adjust their behaviors and decision-making processes. As one participant described it, “Manufacturers must have women to attract women, and must have women in executive roles to retain the women in their companies.”
  • Create a more flexible work environment: Eighty-five percent of the female manufacturing employees surveyed reported that having the flexibility needed to manage work and personal life would be “extremely” or “very” important when considering a new job. Manufacturers who effectively rethink when and where work gets done will have a competitive edge in the talent war – and have no doubt, this war looms. These companies are providing support for this cultural shift by training managers on techniques for leading and evaluating the performance of virtual teams. Research shows that when manufacturing employers offer more workplace flexibility, job satisfaction, job engagement, physical health status, mental health status, and the likelihood of remaining with one’s current employer are significantly higher.
  • Foster sponsorship: Interviewees expressed a belief that sponsorship is an effective tactic to support women’s advancement into leadership positions. A sponsor advocates for an individual and undertakes responsibility for that person’s development and professional progression. In addition, a sponsor extends beyond mentoring and coaching to being a vocal advocate, thereby enhancing their sponsoree’s presence in the organization.

Women are critical to addressing the skills gap in manufacturing as industry leaders expect that access to a highly skilled, flexible workforce will be the most important factor in creating value over the next three to five years.

Image Update
Although opportunities for improvement remain, manufacturers recognize the need to fight their outdated image and actively promote the high-tech, innovative and rewarding careers that constitute manufacturing today. Efforts to appeal to women in this area are underway and the image of the industry is beginning to change as companies take steps to showcase today’s advanced manufacturing workplace as a viable and rewarding career option.

Craig Giffi is a vice chairman and the leader for the U.S. Consumer & Industrial Products Industry practice and chairman of the Global Manufacturing Industry practice of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL).

Jennifer McNelly is President of The Manufacturing Institute, the research and education affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Their organizations partnered with University of Phoenix and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers on the STEP Ahead initiative (women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Production). The STEP Ahead initiative was launched to examine and promote the role of women in the manufacturing industry.

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