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Women in Manufacturing Part 2: How Diversity Improves the Bottom Line

The manufacturing industry is currently facing a slew of challenges exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic, including scarcity of skilled labor. Women have long been an untapped resource of that industry and efforts to expand skilled advancement in manufacturing will require closing existing gender gaps. In response to these concerns, the U.S. government presented several solutions aimed at encouraging women to enter the profession, including increased investment in U.S. manufacturing and industry-wide training. Even with governmental investment, women are struggling to advance in the industrial workplace, hindered by the industry’s bias towards male workers for physical strength and manual labor.

In order for the manufacturing sector to successfully adapt and thrive in our rapidly evolving environment, businesses must look towards utilizing and supporting women. Two noteworthy benefits of adding more women to the manufacturing workforce are as follows:

  1. Diversity and Financial Performance
    While gender diversity is often touted as a good public relations benefit, it can also improve financial performance. In addition to filling open positions, research shows that gender diversity benefits manufacturing firms by bolstering innovative decision making and balancing organizational management. From the perspective of shareholder value, talent and diversity impact the bottom line when employed strategies lead to higher levels of recruitment and retention; lower turnover and recruitment costs; and reduced workforce costs around employee relations, litigations, and settlements. Organizations can also unleash the full potential of their female workforce by creating a less homogeneous culture where unique strengths can thrive.

    Different perspectives also enable more effective selling into diverse markets, which creates greater marketplace recognition to attract new business and increase value through revenue growth. Attracting and retaining top talent, providing leadership and development opportunities, reinforcing a culture of meritocracy, and increasing productivity through improved morale leads to increased profitability. Improved public perception, strengthened corporate social responsibility reputation, and investor perception can also help a company meet and exceed shareholder expectations. When employees believe that their organization is committed to inclusion, they report better business performance in terms of their ability to innovate.

  2. Collective Intelligence
    As with every business, manufacturers often find themselves evaluating new ways to optimize team performance. Researchers studying “collective intelligence” – the term used to describe a measure of general group effectiveness on a wide range of tasks – recommend building mixed teams of men and women to make better and smarter decisions.(1) Thanks to collective intelligence, such teams typically outperform individuals when confronting challenging tasks. While researchers weren’t looking for a gender effect, they found that a group’s measured collective intelligence strongly correlates with its proportion of women. 

A Different Approach to Recruiting Talent
Given that women are underrepresented in the manufacturing workforce and that the argument to increase the industry’s share of female talent is persuasive, one thing is certain – manufacturing companies need a different approach to recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in the workplace. To capitalize and compete for skilled workers, manufacturers cannot afford to just dip a toe in a talent pool where greater numbers of educated women are swimming. It’s time to dive into the deep end and attempt to close the gender gap by considering what women want and how they can be inspired to pursue careers in manufacturing. Women surveyed in recent studies point to opportunity, pay, and work-life balance as main priorities.

The manufacturing industry’s reputation regarding women in the workforce is an obvious deterrent to applicants. Potential workers view the real and perceived double standards and lack of advancement opportunities for women in manufacturing as major turnoffs. In fact, a deficiency in promotion opportunities is among the top reasons motivating women to leave the industry, compounded by inequitable standards of performance between men and women. In an environment where the proportion of men to women is nearly three-to-one, promote-from-within policies typically believed to motivate employees at large actually further skew these ratios, curb enthusiasm, and reinforce the strong belief that manufacturing favors men. Work-life balance, or the perceived lack thereof in manufacturing, is another clear factor deterring women from the industry. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a declining number of women believed they could both meet family commitments and still maintain their career.

Fortunately, creative solutions can yield significant benefits when companies approach these issues through cross-training and job-sharing, creative shift scheduling and flextime options, or compressed work weeks. Addressing employees’ need for flexibility increases attraction and retention, improves job satisfaction, and reduces turnover, all of which contribute to improved return on investment. Given the nature of work in a post-COVID world, leaders wanting people to fully engage with their organizations must offer long-term workplace flexibility and support while focusing on the shorter-term imperatives of staying in business.

As management at manufacturing companies look towards a post-pandemic future, they need to recognize that restructuring their organizations to sustain women not only answers their current predicament, but also bolsters their company structure. The additional benefits of a more diverse workforce will better equip manufacturing companies to handle new challenges in this constantly developing industry.

(1) Exploring Collective Intelligence in Human Groups, Anita Williams Woolley, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, 

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