Examining the Gender Gap in Manufacturing: 5 Potential Solutions for 2022

Manufacturing is a booming industry, but it has yet to capitalize on much of its available talent pool. Like many industrial sectors, manufacturing faces a considerable and long-standing gender gap.


Workforces that lack gender diversity will struggle to reach their full potential. Manufacturing must address this issue if it hopes to sustain growth far into the future.


The Scope of the Manufacturing Gender Gap

A 2021 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) highlights how substantial manufacturing’s gender gap truly is. Women hold 47% of all jobs in the U.S., but they account for just 29.4% of manufacturing positions.


Manufacturing is far from the least gender-diverse industry. For example, women hold just 15% of Maine lobster fishing licenses. However, manufacturers employ far more people than many industries with larger gender gaps. The sector’s underrepresentation stands out, considering its massive presence across the nation.


This gap extends into wages, too. Even when women fill industry roles, they typically make less than their male counterparts. Men in durable goods manufacturing earn a median of $1,026 a week, while women earn just $793. Similarly, women in nondurable goods manufacturing make $733 a week, compared to men’s $976.


The Benefits of Gender Diversity

The manufacturing gender gap goes beyond equity. This lack of diversity also hinders manufacturers’ success as a business.


Research shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to be more profitable than competitors. Similarly, they’re 27% more likely to have superior value creation. These figures have also risen over time, suggesting that as gender equality becomes more important to the surrounding culture, its business benefits also increase.


Fostering a diverse workforce brings in more points of view. Manufacturers that hear more opinions and gain diverse insight are more likely to find creative solutions to persistent problems. Similarly, employees may feel more satisfied in their positions with more representation, leading to higher productivity.


It’s clear that manufacturing must address its gender gap. Here are five strategies that can help manufacturers do so in 2022.


1. Be Proactive About Hiring and Promoting Women

The first and most straightforward strategy to address the gender gap is to emphasize hiring women. Recruiters should specifically search for female resumes when looking for potential hires. This process should involve a conscious effort to counteract long-standing biases. Manufacturers should consider favoring a woman with high potential and less experience over a man with more on-the-job experience.


Manufacturers that hire more women could see more of them apply. Surveys show that 80% of women job-seekers say workplace diversity is an important factor when deciding between offers. Similarly, 35% would not accept a job at a company that lacks diversity.


These practices should apply to promotions, too. Women hold just 29% of manufacturing leadership positions, so manufacturers should ensure they provide plenty of opportunities for upward mobility. Placing more women in leadership positions will also help attract more female applicants.


2. Address Workplace Toxicity

Another crucial step is to counteract sexism and harassment in the workforce. A manufacturer that hires more women will likely experience high turnover if their workplace is discriminatory or hostile.


Educating the current workforce on these issues is the first step. Manufacturing is a male-dominated industry, so it may help to emphasize how toxic masculinity impacts men’s mental health, too. People in leadership positions need to learn how their actions may hinder women’s success or comfort in the workplace.


Next, employers must enforce anti-harassment policies. It should be easy and comfortable to report things to HR, and leadership should follow up on all complaints. Employees who harass or otherwise demean or discriminate against female co-workers should face serious consequences.


3. Provide More Flexibility

Flexibility is an easily overlookable but essential part of making workplaces more equitable across genders. Maternity leave and similar family issues play a significant role in gender wage discrepancies. If women can’t comfortably adjust their workflows when dealing with pregnancy or child care, they may leave their role for another position or stay at home.


Just one in three women in manufacturing believes their industry allows them to meet family needs without harming their careers. Offering paid parental leave is the ideal solution, as it ensures women can take time off to care for their children while supporting them financially. Manufacturers that can’t afford that should at least provide more unpaid leave.


Some office jobs in manufacturing may be suitable for remote or hybrid work. The more flexibility manufacturers can offer, the easier it will be for women to maintain a healthy work-life balance.


4. Emphasize Diversity in Education

Gender equality in manufacturing begins before people enter the workforce. Manufacturers should also fight stereotypes about the industry being better suited to men to encourage more women to pursue these jobs. That means promoting gender diversity in educational programs.


Promotional materials should feature women in manufacturing roles. Manufacturers can also send female workers to job fairs and run internships or other educational programs for women. These opportunities will encourage more women to join the industry and change the demographics people associate it with.


Educational programs should extend into the workforce, too. Women in the industry say mentorship programs and leadership training have the most significant impact on career development, yet only 20% of manufacturers offer them. Providing these ongoing opportunities can foster more female leadership, driving workplace equity.


5. Listen to Women in the Workplace

Ongoing improvements are critical to any industry development initiative, including addressing the gender gap. Manufacturers can embrace long-term gains by asking women in their workforce for their opinions.


Women actively working in manufacturing roles will have the most insight into their challenges and needs. Asking them what has helped them and what’s been challenging can reveal where workplaces can improve. Manufacturers can then adjust to address company-specific shortcomings. Similar tactics can also help improve equality in the workplace as a whole, not just gender discrepancies.


Turning to current workers will also help female employees feel more valued, creating more positive work environments. They’ll then be more likely to stay with the company and may recommend it to job-seeking peers.


Manufacturing Must Become a More Inclusive Industry

Today’s manufacturing sector is missing out on a considerable portion of available talent. Manufacturers must seek to increase gender diversity in their workforce to promote equality and reach their full potential as a business. Closing the gender gap will help companies and their employees attain higher levels of success.


These five strategies can help manufacturers in any subsector address common gender gap issues. The industry will move past its long-standing and detrimental underrepresentation as more organizations implement these changes.


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