In the average manufacturing organization, a quick look around provides ample evidence of a gender gap. However, what organizations may not understand is how the lack of diversity may be harming the business.
"For any sector, gender and diversity are important to success,"Abe Eshkenazi, chief executive officer of APICS, told EBN in an interview. "Not only do recruitment, opportunities, and awareness need to be increased but the career path is not as well defined."
Today, women make up about 47% of the overall labor force, and yet only 29% of the manufacturing workforce, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2015. This was a minor increase from 27% the previous year. Especially considering the looming gap between the number of available workers needed and those available, electronics OEMs need to start considering how to identify and nurture female talent.
"Further, we aren't seeing women move into the leadership positions in manufacturing," Eshkenazi said. "The proportion of women in leadership lags other industries. This indicates that we may be doing a good job in the initial part of getting women engaged at a starting line then we have a particular problem in getting these individuals in C level and director level roles. "
Further, as women progress in a manufacturing career, the pay gap between men and women actually widens, he said. APICs research found that, as women get their first industry jobs, they report pay that is higher than male counterparts—a trend that continues until the age of about 30, at which time male pay outpaces female.
The Manufacturing Institute, APICS SCC, and Deloitte commissioned the women in manufacturing study to try to understand why manufacturing isn't attracting, retaining, and advancing its fair share of talented women. Over 600 women professionals responded to the survey to weigh in on the issue as well as potential solutions.
Click on the slideshow below some results of the study:
The biggest question, then, is not whether change is needed, but how change needs to begin. Eshkenazi offers a handful of suggestions culled from the study:
- Get the corner office involved. For diversity and inclusion programs to get a foothold in the company, senior leaders need to make the program a business priority and lead by example. "You can't have diversity and inclusion program that stops at the C-level," said Eshkenazi.
- Tackle the problem head on. Organizations need to raise awareness about the potential organizational benefits to having women represented in the leadership teams and the organization overall. "Look at policies on recruitment and retention to make sure that diversity is a criteria not only in bringing them in but in advancing them," said Eshkenazi. Some potential benefits: more diverse opinions when making decisions, more balanced organizational management, and improved financial benefit.
- Offer a flexible work environment. The ability to achieve work-life balance benefits all workers but the perceived lack of flexibility is a key factor in deterring women from the manufacturing industry.
- Be a mentor. Whether through a formal program or informal support, mentors are a key element to giving a diversity program teeth. "We need to provide women with advocates within the organization that take responsibility for development and professional progression," Eshkenazi said.
- Get them young. Manufacturing organizations need to raise awareness early by encouraging female students to consider a career in manufacturing during the high school, or even middle school, years. And, of course, don't forget colleges. "Manufacturers need to go to schools and tell them what competencies and skillsets are needed," said Eshkenazi. "The schools will be responsive, because they want to get individuals hired."
- Give women a chance. Challenging and interesting assignments are a critical piece of what keeps women in the manufacturing industry, the survey respondents reported.
"We have to do a better job of explaining the opportunities," said Eshkenazi, pointing to high pay and high placement rates right out of college. "Often there is a negative connotation with manufacturing and we have to do a better job as an industry of articulating and defining what a wonderful job opportunity and career supply chain and operations are. If you want to look at a career path that will take you into leadership of the organization, you can look at those as key to the organization's success."
What are the key takeaways? The huge gap in supply chain and manufacturing is only going to get bigger over the next decade, and attracting women to the electronics industry to work in manufacturing and supply chain roles is an opportunity to close that gap.
Let us know in the comments section what your company is doing to attract, retain, and advance women workers. Where do you think we need to go from here?
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN