Manufacturing Sector Supplies Women with Challenges & Opportunities

People | Petra Mitchell| March 24, 2023

With Women’s History Month entering its final week and International Women’s Day just passed, now is the ideal time to reflect on obstacles and possibilities careers in manufacturing  presents to women. Although women comprise nearly half the U.S. workforce, they hold only one-third of positions in manufacturing companies and have lower representation than in other sectors, including healthcare, education, and professional services.

It is important for manufacturers to increase the number of women on their payrolls because numerous studies have shown that employee diversity makes good business sense. According to a Deloitte study, “Women in manufacturing: Stepping up to make an impact that matters,” there is a direct correlation between diversity and profitability, including the speed and type of innovation a company achieves and diversity of thought organization-wide. The study also states that “gender-diverse leadership groups encourage broader strategic thinking.”

To manufacturers’ credit, they were making strides before the COVID-19 pandemic. According to recent calculations by the National Association of Manufacturers based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the share of women in manufacturing jobs rose from 2010 until early 2020 when pandemic-induced shutdowns, child-care disruptions, and health concerns led many women to leave the workforce.

Although progress is evident, the manufacturing sector continues to lag others in creating work environments that allow women to use their professional talents while meeting family-related responsibilities.    

The Way Forward                                                                              

Manufacturers that make a concerted effort to add women to management and executive teams have a high probability of strengthening their competitiveness. Doing so can be easy because over the past decade, the percentage of women holding bachelor’s or advanced degrees entering STEM fields has increased by 10%. With production becoming more dependent on people with strong engineering and mathematical abilities due to technological advances, and younger workers valuing workplace culture more than their older counterparts, there is a growing need for people who possess a solid combination of hard (technical) and soft (interpersonal) skills. This reality makes women increasingly valuable  to manufacturers.

As manufacturers compete for female talent with other business sectors, they can win the race by offering mentorship programs in which established female team members support younger ones. Additionally, many manufacturers need to improve compensation packages, continually ensure that work is challenging and meaningful, and value work-life balance, including paid parental leave, currently optional for companies with fewer than 50 employees.

At Catalyst Connection, our eight-month Women in Leadership program begins this Friday, March 31. It allows women who hold manufacturing leadership positions to help younger women aspiring to serve in manufacturing management roles learn from one another, improve their abilities to make an impact on their organizations, gain recognition for their contributions, and reverse the reality of women in manufacturing being over-represented in support functions and under-represented as managers.

Although many strides have occurred, much work still needs to be done. To meet the moment, participate in our Women in Leadership Program, or recommend it to colleagues, associates, friends, or family. Get the details or relay your thoughts and experiences about challenges and opportunities for women in manufacturing.