Manufacturing: How Women Can Help Spark a Troubled Industry

Many of you may not know this, but when you go to a manufacturing expo or conference, you will rarely find a line-up outside the women's washroom. What an eye-opener this is. While this may be a tremendous advantage to most of us women, it is also a disturbing reality in the manufacturing industry in this day and age.

Women are underrepresented in many segments of the manufacturing industry. This needs to change. Deloitte Development and the Manufacturing Institute discovered that gender and diversity initiatives are areas of focus in less than 25 percent of manufacturers surveyed. According to recent Catalyst research, the percentage of female CEOs in U.S. businesses is 3 percent; females on Fortune 500 boards of directors represent 15.7 percent; female executive officers weigh in at 14.4 percent; and yet the U.S. labor force as a whole is comprised of 46.7 percent women.

If you think these percentages are unbelievably low, particularly given that almost half of the American workforce is female, you haven't yet seen the statistics for the U.S. manufacturing industry.

In U.S. Manufacturing - Durable Goods, women represent 1.1 percent of CEOs, 13.7 percent of the Boards of Directors, 10.4 percent of Executive Officers, and the manufacturing industry labor force is comprised of only 24.4 percent women.

Only 30 percent of the 14 million Americans employed in manufacturing are women, and we certainly don't only need their skills. We want their leadership. Charisma, character and courage is a must have to lead the way in this new era of the knowledge worker. We need women who are ready, willing and able to change the approach, and do their part to ignite an industry that is perceived in a very negative light.

Seeing factories and jobs dwindling over the past couple of years, and the lack of loyalty from employers to their employees, has created a tremendous lack of trust. Should we be surprised that most people have turned their back to an industry that is essential to our wealth and well-being in North America?

Have you ever considered that the challenges in the manufacturing industry are mainly presented to us through the lens of a man? Everything has become a numbers game and we have lost our senses when it comes to creating new opportunities and living by our values and ethical standards.

I am not saying that female-dominated workplaces would change everything, but a good balance between men and women who respect each other's input will. The language and dialogue will change. They will be able to help each other see things that they wouldn't be able to see on their own.

Did you know that women could be the answer to the skills shortage in manufacturing? The challenge is that not enough young women perceive the manufacturing industry as great choice for their future career. Period.

So how can we change the current misperception that manufacturing is not a career opportunity that women would want to pursue? How can we attract female leadership?

It would be a great start to have manufacturing associations lead by example by having more females on their executive teams. To increase gender diversity in boardrooms, an increasing number of European Union Member States have resorted to legislative measures establishing quotas or targets for gender representation on company boards. Do we really have to wait for legislation? Companies should increasingly see the value women bring to the boardroom table and act upon it.

I personally would like to see that women in the industry are confident enough to stop behaving like men, and embrace being a woman and use their specific character traits to support the manufacturing industry. I would like to encourage female executives, although they are rare, to handpick young women and devote a certain amount of their time to mentor and sponsor them. There must be more inspirational talks in our schools to encourage the innovative and creative spirit in our children, and to let them know that what they design and produce in the future can change the world. Maybe we could also start initiatives in schools and let children write essays on how they would tackle our current challenges in the industry. It's the imagination coming from completely different perspectives that will jazz up our current views and ignite that much-needed spark.

If we don't make manufacturing more attractive to today's young girls and women, we will lose this potential labor pool to another sector, or even worse, to another country.