Why retaining women in manufacturing matters

In this installment of Automation Zone, if you are scrambling to build your talent pipeline, keep the women who are on your team.

By Pamela Kan, president, Bishop-Wisecarver

Bad news: There aren’t enough workers to fill the job openings in manufacturing, and the number of women working in manufacturing is relatively low. Most of you reading this already know that.

Good news: Women have enormous potential to help manufacturing fix its skills gap and bring ideas and solutions needed for the future. And survey results from The Manufacturing Institute show that more than two-thirds (70%) of women currently in manufacturing jobs plan to make a career for themselves in the industry and would choose it again if they were starting their career today. The current numbers may be low, but women in the industry are satisfied with their career choice.

It is now up to those of us working in manufacturing businesses to take this good news and find ways to better retain and promote female employees. Businesses are well aware that it is more profitable to retain good employees than it is to hire new ones. The financial cost of losing an employee is significant with lost productivity, time spent hiring someone new, onboarding and training for someone new – the list goes on. It’s a no-brainer that we want to keep good employees to help our bottom line and enable long-term success.

This becomes even more important when it comes to women in manufacturing. With possibly 2 million manufacturing jobs going unfilled by 2025, according to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, we don’t want to do anything that increases that number. Also, while the U.S. Census Bureau reports that women represent nearly half of the total U.S. labor force (47%), they constituted less than a third (29%) of manufacturing workforce in 2016. These low overall numbers translate to even lower numbers of women in leadership positions within manufacturing.

It is more important than ever to retain women working in industry and increase their share – and their position levels – moving forward. The goal is clear, but what does that look like? And more specifically, what does that look like to the 94% of manufacturing companies with fewer than 100 employees? How do smaller companies create an environment that strengthens female employee retention and helps increase the numbers of women in the company as well? What can we do today to make a difference for our companies long-term? As the female president of a small manufacturing company, I have found there are several key ways to help retain and promote women in the industry.

1. Challenging and meaningful work. Manufacturing needs great problem-solvers who can work to meet current customers’ needs while also developing new innovations for future concerns. A 2014 report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that 78% of Millennials said their decision to work at a company was influenced by how innovative they considered the company to be. This same group said they also value the chance to make a difference.

What my team loves most about the manufacturing industry is the ability to take their knowledge and interests and create something to help a customer. Most people want to know that what they spend their time doing 40-plus hours per week actually makes a difference in the world. Manufacturing provides this opportunity, and we need to ensure that our current employees clearly understand the power they have to solve problems and change lives.

2. Work-life balance and company culture. I like to combine these because it is impossible to have true work-life balance if the company culture doesn’t support it. We can’t just say it; we have to mean it. Ways that we support this type of balance include paid days off each year for community service and supporting company-wide community service projects. We also provide a company culture where women know that their ideas, efforts, and work will receive the same consideration, recognition, and compensation as anyone else’s on the team. A huge benefit of being a small manufacturer is the family type culture you can create. I know each employee by name; I have provided educational and professional development opportunities that match individual strengths and interests; and I promote from within. 

3. Mentorship. Multiple studies have shown that women with mentors enjoy higher compensation, more promotions and greater work satisfaction than nonmentored peers. The only negative noted with mentoring is finding enough of them. And this is a noticeable issue in manufacturing with fewer women available for mentoring those who do join the industry.

I have benefited from several mentors in my career, and I’m now in the planning stages to launch a manufacturing mentoring video chat.

4. Education. Professional development classes, too, are a key aspect of keeping women in manufacturing challenged, learning, and finding additional areas of interest in the industry. Even for smaller companies, we can provide such education through online providers, local colleges, and one-on-one education from more-experienced employees.

My company has recently developed its own “university” where we’ve compiled resources that best train our employees, as well as customers, on product details and development. It took time and energy to develop, create, refine, and now train with these educational tools, but the impact has already proved successful. 

5. Visibility of female leaders. Women in manufacturing need to speak at conferences, write blogs, attend career fairs, bring students on company tours, and be visible so that other women and students can see themselves in manufacturing and recognize their own potential. If your company doesn’t currently have women in formal leadership roles, work to connect female employees with professional organizations (e.g., Million Women Mentors, Women in Manufacturing, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) in which they can participate to access industry role models. If every small manufacturer retained and added at least one woman to its workforce, the positive impact would be significant.

Know an Influential Woman in Manufacturing? Submit a nomination for the 2019 class of Influential Women in Manufacturing (IWIM) beginning Jan. 1 at www.influentialwomeninmanufacturing.com.

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