Manufacturing is often viewed as a labor-intensive dirty profession, but this is hardly the truth today. While this might have been true back in the peak of the industrial revolution, modern manufacturing practices allow for cutting edge production techniques. From CNC machining to additive manufacturing, being involved in the manufacturing industry today is more about creating than it is putting in hard labor.
Currently, the manufacturing sector is 27% women. This is the lowest number since the 1970s, so how can we even out the playing field in the industry?
What is causing the gender gap?
Gender gaps are rampant throughout many of the engineering sectors, but in the manufacturing industry, the gap seems almost insurmountable. This gigantic leaning towards male workers isn’t necessarily the fault of discrimination, rather it has a lot more to do with stereotypes of the entire industry.
Manufacturing began as an industry filled with manual labor, long hours, and ultimately an industry characterized by assembly line floors. If you were to ask the average person outside of the manufacturing sector to explain the industry, this is likely the image you would get.
In fact, a study conducted by Women in Manufacturing (WiM) found that 68% of all women surveyed would not consider manufacturing as a career path, ultimately stemming back to the general stereotype of the industry. Among the external view of the industry, women surveyed also saw it as a male-dominated field where women couldn’t advance. Ultimately, the problem becomes that the manufacturing industry is currently characterized as a “guys only” world that involves long hours and manual labor.
This is a problem, too. Countless studies have shown that having single-gender dominated industries can stifle innovation, or at the very least, stifle unique perspectives. In manufacturing, "unique perspectives" doesn't mean what color a part might be, rather it might be a new innovative time-saving way to create things.
Anyone in the industry now knows that the stereotype previously held around manufacturing is no longer based on reality and it is rapidly changing. With the increase in additive manufacturing, CAM software, and other higher-level technological production techniques, the industry has enormous potential for a female workforce.
We could delve into why having a diverse gender population in an industry is important to innovation, but that’s not what this post is about. Rather, understanding that gender diversity is beneficial to engineering, let’s see how we can break down external stereotypes and attract women to the industry.
Addressing the core problems
There are some key problems we have to address as an industry, and the first is creating an environment welcoming to women. Not that women need it more than men, but the current industry being male-dominated doesn’t have any way of formally mentoring and sponsoring the female manufacturer. As an industry, it is important to create an engineering environment to welcome opposing viewpoints and methods. This drive isn’t to sound politically correct, rather it becomes necessary to the continuing innovation of manufacturing.
STEM initiatives are continually being pushed to younger generations and ultimately this will help the manufacturing sector in the future. For further development, it will become important to present manufacturing as what it is to younger generations: a fast-paced innovation filled engineering industry with a wide variety of options.
There is no question that the manufacturing sector is growing, but while this growth is good, a problem is arising. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs are unfilled, and there simply aren’t enough male workers to fill them, according to Forbes. This huge lack of qualified workers means that there is a huge opening in the industry to recruit women.
When manufacturing jobs go unfilled for too long in the modern era, factory owners are forced to automate and innovate away from human labor. While there's certainly an argument to be made for automation in manufacturing, we can all certainly agree that a person looking for a career path should not consider manufacturing simply because of stereotypes.
A survey from the Deloitte and Manufacturing institute found that 75% of women view the manufacturing sector as possibly being rewarding and fun. For the most part, women are can be ready to get into the industry, but we need a fundamental shift in the hiring practices of large firms in order to facilitate this growth. The good news on this is that these shifts in recruitment really aren’t that hard to make a reality. With a little nudging of the internal work climate away from a male-centric zone and getting recruiters to broaden their landscape, we could see an equal playing field in only a few years.
In the manufacturing industry, as a direct result of the abundance of men, internal company cultures tend to be male-oriented. Abolishing this culture and bringing in a more innovation-based collective mindset will help increase women’s interest in manufacturing.
Advancing innovation in manufacturing
At the end of the day, innovation doesn't have a gender. All innovation is concerned with is how effective workers can be at creating the newest and best thing. Male-dominated culture often devolves into innovation stifling modes. While certainly not always, manufacturing innovation can benefit from the perspectives that another 50% of the population may bring to the table.
For anyone driven to further innovation as far and as fast as possible, attracting women to the manufacturing industry is a no brainer. Stereotypes and skewed viewpoints have stood in the way of women in manufacturing. In the information age, now is the time to make a change for the better.
Fields like additive, computer modeling, simulation, design, can all be great paths for anyone. With a little collective nudging, we can increase innovation and attract women into one of the fastest-growing fields across the world.