October 23, 2022

We Need More Women in Manufacturing

Women need to be paid and treated equally in this workforce. The days of men dominating the sector in undesirable work environments must end, replaced by a more balanced gender distribution working in high-tech clean plants that are as comfortable as an office environment.
Would Women Make a Difference?

I often wonder how different the current state of manufacturing would be if women had historically been the majority around the table in the board rooms.  For example, would the Cuyahoga River have caught fire at least a dozen times?  Yvon Chouinard gives his wife Malinda credit for making Patagonia a "notably humane place to work." An example is her work setting up a childcare center on the company grounds.  In 2012, she urged him to become a B Corp, the first business in California to earn this certification.  We will never know; instead of speculating, we can explore how to best move forward with the benefits of bringing in more women to the manufacturing sector.  

"Early in my career, I can think of a few male mentors who encouraged me to speak up in meetings, not to let men interrupt me and to stop saying sorry about things I shouldn't be sorry about." – Mary Barra, Chair & CEO of General Motors
Women in Sustainability

While reviewing Sustainability Magazine's recent Top 100 Sustainability Leaders 2022, I was struck by how many were women (68 of 100).  One reason is likely partly as companies look to add more women at the executive level to balance gender equity, as Chief Sustainability Officer is an opportunity to do so with an emerging C-Suite role.  But, to be fair, many men are practicing responsible manufacturing and would be able to do the job well.

The Current State of Pay

The Center for American Progress reviewed the 2018 Census Bureau data regarding the gender pay gap.  Asian women were more in line at $0.90 on the dollar.  The inequity for White women is making $0.79 compared to a male $1.00.  The numbers worsen for Black women earning $0.62, American Indian and Alaska Native at $0.57, and Hispanic and Latino women at $0.54.  At first glance, it seems improbable for such a wide pay disparity, which likely means there are many causes for this issue.  

Stated Causes for Wage Gaps

Businesses continue to unfairly compensate women in general, per an article by Future Women.  Some of the causes for these disparities include 1) discrimination and bias, 2) bonus pay plans, 3) working in lower-paying industries, 4) women taking time out to have a family, and 5) a lack of flexibility for women returning to work.  These are all issues that can be improved upon by leaders in the manufacturing industry wanting to create more women-friendly workplaces.

An Alternative Approach

The American Center for Progress suggests that legislation is necessary to drive change to lessen the gender pay gap.  Given the current state of partisan division and the quoted 2062 date for the realization of equal pay, I recommend manufacturers take the lead to resolve their need for talent with a just approach to equality for women.  A recommended method would be open-book management, where financial transparency requires the organization to be more equitable in wage and benefit packages.  It will be challenging to make everything fair quickly.  However, plans should proactively eliminate pay inequities.

The Growing Manufacturing Employment Gap

Research done in a 2018 partnership of Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found double-digit rates in manufacturing job openings since mid-2017.  At a historic high of 89%, the number one issue facing manufacturing executives is filling the gap between available employment candidates and the needs of their plant operations.  The case will become even more pressing with the expected retirement of 2.6 million baby boomers in the coming decade.  With an average age of 66, many in this generation have delayed their post-career plans and continue working.  However, their retirement looms, leaving little time to resolve the growing gap between needs and job candidates.  Moreover, the task will become even more challenging over the next few years as workers retire with projections of limited employee candidate interest in replacing them.  Manufacturing operations that work to be appealing options for women can be part of a noble purpose to help close the gap while providing them higher incomes, robust benefits packages, and opportunities for career advancement.

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Recommendations from Women in Industry

The sourcing organization Thomas interviewed six women in the industry, asking for must-read advice for those wanting to follow them.  Denise Ebenhoech, regional head of advanced robotic applications for KUKA Robotics Corp, sees that things are improving where women are in higher areas of responsibility at a younger age than when she entered the workforce 25 years earlier.  Lessening bias is critical for Ginger Butz, a business segment manager at The Morey Corporation.  She further suggests that companies that recruit women need to partner with organizations like Women in Manufacturing.  Lindsey Harding, accounting manager at Stone Interiors, recommends developing training programs to create opportunities for women to succeed in manufacturing.  These are just a few of the many ideas shared by those already thriving in this industry.

Key Takeaway

Women need to be paid and treated equally in this workforce.  The days of men dominating the sector in undesirable work environments must end, replaced by a more balanced gender distribution working in high-tech clean plants that are as comfortable as an office environment.

First Step

Individuals wanting to improve their manufacturing operations can reap the additional benefit from research in the McKinsey & Company article Women in the Workplace 2020.  Share performance and profits can be nearly 50 percent higher when women have prominent executive management representation.

My Gratitude

I continue to appreciate the leadership of Mary Barra of General Motors.  The company continues to receive numerous recognitions for its gender equality at all levels of the organization—one of many significant accomplishments done in an industry historically dominated by men.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will focus on making the manufacturing industry more attractive to potential disabled employees.  Establishing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization is crucial to the humanist manufacturing framework.    

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstratgicsustainability.com.

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Contact me if you need help with the manufacturing support services of consulting, coaching, Fractional Chief Sustainability Officer, or training/reskilling at 734-664-9076.

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