woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering DayFrom executive jobs to machine operators, women are challenging the gender stereotypes of the manufacturing sector.

According to a report by IBM, despite growing awareness of gender divide, the number of women in leadership positions has barely moved over the past 2 years. Here Aisha Khalid, head of marketing at EU Automation, explains why gender diversity is important in the manufacturing sector and how to narrow the gender gap. 

In manufacturing, women are significantly under-represented. Thomas, an industrial sourcing platform and marketing service provider, has conducted a survey with the Women in Manufacturing Association (WiM) in 2020, revealing that only one in three manufacturing professionals and one in four manufacturing leaders are women. In the US, women constitute one of the largest pools of untapped talents in manufacturing. In 2016, women totalled about 47 per cent of the US labour force, but only 29 per cent of the manufacturing workforce. According to the Making Manufacturing Work for Women Report published by the University of Strathclyde, women only account for 26 per cent of the total workforce in Scotland’s manufacturing industry and they mainly take up the occupations with the lowest pay.

There is also a significant gender gap in mid or senior level positions. The Gender Diversity Index 2020 released by Belgian analyst firm Europe Women on Boards (EWOB) surveyed 628 companies across Europe and pointed out that, although more and more women are taking leadership roles, there is still slow progress on top jobs. The research suggests that only 42 companies surveyed had a female CEO and 129 had a woman in any role in C-Suite executive managerial positions. According to the World Economic Forum, in the manufacturing industry only 15 per cent at senior level and 9 per cent as CEOs.

Why does gender diversity matter?

A more diverse workforce and leadership benefit businesses. According to McKinsey, in the UK every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity among organisations will increase the operating profit by 3.5 per cent.

Greater gender diversity also leads to improved talent attraction and retention and offers organisations a broader range of innovative ideas and insights.  Today’s manufacturing world has seen a huge transformation in the implementation of digital and smart technologies. A workforce with varied and transferable skills is needed, and the failure to attract enough female workforce may contribute to the skills shortage that is currently plaguing the industry. According to Women in manufacturing, a report published by Deloitte, the Manufacturing Institute and APICS in 2017, having women in leadership positions can help manufacturer deliver 88 per cent diverse perspective in decision-making, 84 per cent innovative and creative approaches and 74 per cent balanced organisational management.

Alongside with the benefits for the business, gender diversity can also motivate employees and increase their job satisfaction. Research shows that having a gender diverse policy can increase positivity in the workplace, because employees may feel more confident in communicating their ambitions and progress in their career, regardless of their gender.

Encourage women into manufacturing

Many initiatives have been taken to promote gender diversity in the manufacturing sector. For example, every year on June 23 is the International Women in Engineering Day in the UK, which celebrates the achievements of female engineers. The WISE Campaign is another initiative promoting gender inclusion during the current COVID-19 pandemic. It tells positive stories about the way women are making a difference in the STEM sector and addresses the STEM skills shortage by providing technical training for girls and women in different stages of their academic and professional careers. WISE also monitored the gender impact of decisions about employment, education and caring roles during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure women are not disproportionately affected.

The Manufacturing Institute is also promoting the role of women in manufacturing through the STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production) Ahead Initiative, which serves to mentor and recognise women while also leading research efforts tackling the topic of gender diversity in STEM. STEP Ahead inspires female leaders to pursue a career in manufacturing and showcases the opportunities the manufacturing industry can provide. Moreover, from 2013 to 2017, the Manufacturing Institute recognised 672 women with STEP Leader Awards.

Companies in the manufacturing industry are also making efforts to enhance the number of female employees on their apprenticeship schemes. For example, Renishaw, a Gloucestershire-based global engineering technologies company, held its first all-female virtual work experience week in April 2021 to encourage more female students to consider roles in STEM as visible and achievable career options.

To attract more women and close the gender gap, it is important that manufacturing organisations increase the visibility of women leaders to display gender diversity to future recruits. For example, companies can highlight female leaders on their websites and in their marketing materials. In job descriptions, companies can promote examples of gender inclusivity and highlight factors that are beneficial to female jobseekers.

In addition to attracting more female talents, it is also necessary to increase retention. According to a PwC report on improving diversity and inclusion in manufacturing, while identifying a gender gap is the first step, setting goals to close the gap is critical. Manufacturing organisations need to set clear goals and use analytics to collect data, assess and develop their own talent pipeline. Women may find it harder to climb the corporate ladder for a variety of reasons. To overcome this, companies need to promote professional development and create paths toward career advancement. For instance, mentorship programs can help female employees enhance their expertise and get promoted, and thus increase their retention. Manufacturing businesses can also develop gender-balanced polices such as maternity and paternity programs to create a gender-balanced culture and atmosphere.

It is exciting to see many manufacturers are now making a more concerted effort to promote gender inclusivity. As an ongoing issue, achieving gender diversity in manufacturing won’t be easy and won’t happen overnight. More initiatives need to be taken to close the gender gap.

For more information about innovation in manufacturing, visit www.euautomation.com. 

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