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The results are in: Interpreting the findings of the 2019 Career Development and Gender Diversity survey

Jan. 15, 2020
‘I don’t have to prove myself to anyone, nor will I or do I care to.’

Erin Hallstrom, head of Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing recognition program, joins Amanda Del Buono on the season premier of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce. In this interview, the two discuss IWIM’s new gender diversity and career development special report. Erin and Amanda collaborated on this report, which offers an overview on the state of gender diversity and career development in the U.S. manufacturing industry using data that was collected from a survey of the IWIM audience.

AD: Let’s start by explaining what brought about the first special report from IWIM. What was the inspiration? What was IWIM trying to learn from the survey and what are some of the key takeaways?

EH: We’re at the beginning of our third year of the IWIM Awards right now, but even before we kicked off IWIM originally in late 2017, the group of us that launched it recognized something in what we were reporting: We could see women responsible for a lot of breakthroughs, a lot of creations, a lot of ideation, but they weren’t getting a lot of accolades for it.

Enter Influential Women in Manufacturing.

Erin Hallstrom, head of Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing recognition program

Throughout the nomination process and then writing about the honorees in 2018 and 2019, we also witnessed a trend about career development in manufacturing. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say we also noticed similarities that mirrored in our own career development as well.

These observations became the foundation for the survey we conducted in 2019 and then the special report that we generated from that.

Because the IWIM awards -- much like the team -- spanned different manufacturing verticals, we thought we would see if there were any nuances specific to manufacturing, a specific sector or specific gender.

AD: Right, and to note we did have both male and female responses to the survey, so it wasn’t just focusing on women and women’s issues, it also did take a look at things men were concerned about as well. It was interesting to see some of that overlap in some senses.

EH: Right, the respondents were predominantly female, but we definitely had, it wasn’t a 50/50 split, but we definitely had a significant percentage of male respondants. So, that was great to see in and of itself.

AD: I thought it was interesting to see the responses of men compared to women, spots where I saw some overlap or spots where they were completely different. What were some of the key differences and similarities you noticed in regards to gender’s impact on career development in manufacturing?

EH: We did this as a blind survey. It was anonymous, we did not capture personal details, such as name, address, phone number. We conducted it in such a way that we could split and divvy up our data points, but we also introduced options for people to write in specific responses.

We were also really conscious when we created the survey to not ask leading or presumptuous questions, and I believe we succeeded. Being a group of women who put the survey together, we didn’t want to launch into this with a ‘woe is me and my uterus’ mentality about what we were asking.

One result that I found particularly gratifying was that both genders are up against barriers in work-life balance. I think most often what we in the consumer public read and listen to or hear about is issues work-life balance for women, but in this particular survey showed it’s a big barrier for everyone, not just women, men, too.

It was also very affirming to see how many companies had women in leadership positions. That seems like it should be a no-brainer at this point, but I’m surprised at how many leadership committees I see online or at conferences that have zero women on them.

Obviously, if everyone is struggling with work/life balance then it stands to reason there should be similar uphill battles with career advancement for everyone, but our anecdotal responses proved otherwise.

AD: I thought it was interesting. I remember reading a few of them where some gentlemen had noted the distance from their office as a barrier. Even though we think of women as the care-givers of their children, men still want to be close to home, too. And, like this particular respondent had mentioned, career development has to fit between my day job, my home life, and I spend an hour or two commuting every day. It’s just not practical.

This kind of leads into the next question, but I thought it was interesting that when it came to gender diversity and picking people for the right position that we had both men and women comment that they just want the most qualified person for the job.

That’s a common response, and I wanted to ask you, people say  “I just want the most qualified person for the job, I don’t care what gender they are,” how did the survey responses support this point of view and what were some cases against it?

EH: That’s a great question, and something that I know when I was looking at the results when we were putting the report together, that was something I wanted and needed to unpack, myself, especially as someone who covers workforce within the manufacturing industry.

We definitely saw responses that supported that belief and I understand why people have it. With the labor market being what it is in manufacturing right now, qualified often means legal and available.

But also numerous studies have shown we all carry an inherent bias whether we think we do or not. So, those responses about not caring about gender may feel accurate to that person, but if you look at the landscape of who is getting promoted and the most often, things start to take a turn, and we definitely noticed that in the responses. 

We saw references to trying to break into the ‘old boys club’ or that women in leadership roles were all done for good PR.

Not surprising to me were the instances where women indicating needing to ‘prove’ themselves among their colleagues while men more often than not in the anecdotal responses didn’t feel they needed to prove anything to anyone.

AD: I thought that was interesting. I remember one of the anecdotal responses in particular that stuck out to me was a woman who mentioned that her work gets cross-checked more often, and she’d be more than happy to collaborate with people, she gets something done and it seems like they aren’t confident in the work that she’s providing.

I thought it was interesting from that perspective, that she felt she is qualified, ‘I am qualified, so trust me to get my job done.’

EH: Right. There was one response that stuck out to me because of the confidence behind it when you read it, which is ‘I don’t have to prove myself to anyone, nor will I or do I care to.’ That particular response really did stick out to me, because I think that’s an interesting mentality to have, and maybe because of where I’m at in my career and what you hear and read about so often, you see something like that, and it’s like ‘alright, I applaud you and that kind of confidence to feel that way.

Click here to listen to the entire interview.

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