International Women’s Day 2020: Women in Manufacturing

Women, and girls, represent half of the world’s population and by extension, half of it’s potential. It has been proven that empowering women stimulates productivity and economic growth. And yet, it remains that in the manufacturing industry, women continue to constitute a clear minority. Women make up under 25% of the manufacturing industry’s labour force, and men tend to occupy higher skilled and higher paid engineering roles resulting in a gender pay gap being prevalent in the majority of manufacturing companies. So, there are two key issues surrounding gender equality in the manufacturing industry: the gender pay gap, and the lack of women entering the industry in the first place.

A Call to Young Girls

There is a perception of the industry as a dirty, male-dominated environment; if you work in manufacturing, you’ll know that this is rarely the case. This goes some way to explain women’s reluctance to get involved with manufacturing. The good news is, there is a solution – education. Girls need to recognise manufacturing to be a possibility from a young age; they should be able to see women currently contributing to the industry, and opportunities for progression need to be made visible. Girls should also be encouraged to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) at school to reduce the gender imbalance in STEM students, graduates and later, professionals. At present, only 35% of 16-year-old girls choose maths, physics, computing or a technical vocational qualification compared to 94% of boys. Furthermore, only 9% of young women go on to do a degree or level 4 qualification in maths, physics, computer science or engineering, compared to 29% of young men. When asked for her opinion on the reasons behind this, Sophie Engineer (currently applying for her PhD in Mathematics at the University of Bristol) suggested that “the problem starts young, younger even than primary school”. She referred to the ‘dream gap’ which describes the phenomenon where young girls, due to social constructions indicating that women are less capable and valuable than men, restrict themselves from reaching their full potential. Sophie explained how she felt that from a young age “girls’ dreams are steered in a different direction, not only in gendered toys and marketing but in role models. We need more female role models in stereotypically male jobs.” She suggested that large companies, in particular, should be investing in education; organising school trips for girls, or encouraging their female employees to address girls in schools and make opportunities in STEM fields more visible and attractive. Sophie excelled at school studying Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry, and now is finishing her MSci in Mathematics. Her advice to young girls aspiring to succeed in STEM subjects is: “Don’t be put off by the current facts and figures – you can always find other women in the same situation who will want to help you. If there are female teachers in your maths and science departments, speak to them! They will be very encouraging as they were once in your exact position.”

There are several campaigns designed to break down the stereotypes surrounding STEM subjects and showcase the opportunities open to women within the sector: Women in STEM, Tech She Can, WISE, and more. These campaigns are fundamental in bridging the gender gap. Businesses need to consider the future; investing more in educating young girls now will prove rewarding in 15-20 years’ time when looking to recruit and finding themselves spoilt for choice.  

A Call to Manufacturing Organisations

Manufacturing organisations can proactively ensure that their business has female representation. Elfab (a global manufacturer of pressure relief products) values diversity and is committed to attracting and retaining women. Their methods include tailoring their recruitment process to attract more female applicants; through advertising vacancies on websites such as ‘Where Women Work’. As a result, they are now in a position where half of their senior managers are women. Elfab have also highlighted that manufacturers need to recognise that simply recruiting more women isn’t enough – they need to retain them. Businesses can do this through a variety of methods. The monitoring of salaries, for example. Flexibility is also a key factor in attracting and retaining women in manufacturing. Flexible training and working hours will create an attractive place for women, and men, to work. Lush (handmade cosmetics) fosters a culture which supports fathers leaving early to get back for children. Not only is this a good way to help level the playing field for women at work, but also promotes men’s rights as a father being equally important to those of a mother. If you’re looking to promote gender equality in your organisation, WISE’s 10 Steps are a good place to start. Change-proven, these steps have enabled 180 businesses across the UK to improve gender balance in their STEM fields.

It is not purely a question of how many women are working in manufacturing, we also must address the issue of at what level. Women are underrepresented at senior and board level. Looking at Gender Pay Gap Reporting, manufacturing companies report that women make up only 19.2% of the top pay quartile. Most women reside in the lowest pay quartile (34.1% demonstrating that men dominate each of the four quartiles).

But, don’t be fooled! There are women occupying management positions in the industry – and doing well! Goldratt UK has worked with many brilliant female managers and directors. One of which being Liz Blunsum, Managing Director of Lothian Electric Machines Ltd (Lemac). Lemac manufactures AC and DC electric motors, stairlifts and other engineering products. Liz began her career in software engineering and development; she went on to hold positions in manufacturing, supply chain, sales and distribution, and finance. She took the position of Managing Director at Lemac some 18 years ago now and since then, the company has gone from strength to strength. Liz’s advice for women starting out in the industry today would be to “Be yourself. Be confident – the job is 80% managing people, keeping everyone on the same track. Accept that you are not the expert in all things but develop your people and facilitation skills.”

Things look positive. Last year the UK reached 1 million women in core STEM occupations and the number of women in professional engineering roles has almost doubled in the last 10 years. Businesses are starting to appreciate the advantages of flexible working hours to the point that there is increasing opportunity for management progression for those only able to work part-time. But there is still a long way to go. The benefits of attracting more women to the manufacturing industry are endless. Most importantly, for a business, women equate to a talent pool that has only recently begun to be tapped; neglecting to make opportunities visible to women limits the potential for your business to flourish.

The figures used in this article were taken from Make UK’s report ‘Making Gender Pay Manufacturers’ Business’ published in June 2018.

By Lauren Wiles