The good news, according to the results of a new survey, is that 70 percent of women said they would stay in manufacturing if they were to start their career today. On the other hand, the study also shows that many manufacturers aren’t doing enough to target women (a critical talent pool), which could help them close the skills gap.


The study, “Women in Manufacturing: Stepping up to make an impact that matters,” was conducted by The Manufacturing Institute, Deloitte and APICS, and is the result of more than 600 survey responses from women professionals in the manufacturing industry, along with nearly 20 manufacturing executive interviews. The insights explain how companies may effectively recruit, retain and advance talented women in manufacturing, and illustrates ways that women in manufacturing are making an impact in the industry through programs like STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Ahead.


I was interested to see that some of the most important employment factors for women in manufacturing—according to the respondents—include opportunities for challenging and interesting assignments, attractive pay and good work-life balance. The most impactful programs to help retain women in manufacturing include formal and informal mentorship programs, flexible work practices, and increasing the visibility of key leaders who serve as role models, according to survey respondents.


“The industry is missing out on a critical talent resource to help advance innovation in manufacturing, increase America’s competitiveness in the global manufacturing landscape and close the skills gap,” adds Trina Huelsman, vice chairman, co-author of the research, Deloitte & Touche LLP. “Unleashing the potential of women in manufacturing can reap big rewards. Organizations that make recruitment, retention and advancement of women a strategic priority can bring diverse decision making perspectives, drive innovative and creative solutions, and may achieve overall better business performance.”


While there has been an overall positive change in the industry’s attitude toward women employees, women still only comprise 29 percent of the U.S. manufacturing workforce, while they make up approximately half of the total U.S. labor force. To help address that challenge, The Manufacturing Institute is promoting the role of women in manufacturing through mentoring, recognition, research and leadership with its STEP Ahead initiative, which was launched in 2012 to celebrate women in the manufacturing industry who are making a difference through advocacy, mentorship, engagement, promotion and leadership.


Toward that goal, the study also examines the positive impact of STEP Ahead, reporting insights from former honorees and emerging leaders who indicate STEP Ahead has helped raise the visibility of opportunities for women in the industry, manufacturing opportunities in the community, and opportunities for women within their companies. The STEP Ahead honorees and emerging leaders have reached an estimated 300,000 individuals—from peers in the industry to school age children—through their industry engagement. Indeed, nearly 90 percent of the STEP Ahead honorees indicate they are engaged with individuals to raise the visibility of the industry; 92 percent said they are engaged in efforts in the development of women; and 70 percent said they are engaged with the K-12 system to encourage young girls and boys to consider careers in manufacturing.


“Many outstanding women leaders are making huge strides in building and promoting the manufacturing industry and are demonstrating what modern manufacturing offers: rewarding and fulfilling careers with limitless opportunity for growth,” says Jay Timmons, president and CEO, National Association of Manufacturers. “Today’s manufacturing employees are building and designing the future, and women in manufacturing serve as ambassadors to move this industry forward.”


What are your thoughts on the number of women in manufacturing? Does your company do enough to recruit, and retain, women?