Solving the Talent Crisis
The greatest untapped talent pool in manufacturing, logistics, and the supply chain sector in the United States is women. Even though women make up almost half (47%) of the entire U.S. labor force, they make up only slightly more than one-quarter (27%) of the manufacturing workforce. This needs to change if the manufacturing industry is to have any hope of addressing the enormous talent chasm that has opened up in recent years.
Women in the industry are often marginalized in stereotypical job functions such as secretaries or customer service reps. These are some of the few areas where women make up the majority of the workforce. In production, material moving, and transportation, the figure drops significantly to just 26%.
Pigeon-holing women into certain areas of the business restricts the development of manufacturing. Fixing this gender inequality creates diverse views and opinions.
Businesses benefit from original ideas when their workforces are diverse, but this may need to occur through deliberate consideration to counter existing biases within the industry. In fact, when comparing return on sales and return on invested capital, logistics companies with more women on the board beat their rivals by 16% and 26%, respectively.
Primarily, companies need to provide more support to empower the women on their team to be in visible positions and act as role models for other potential employees.
There was a time when a production floor required a particular demographic to manage the strain of heavy lifting and rigorous demands. However, plant floors today are safer and more high-tech. Smart factories can hire more diversely, knowing that the technology exists to reduce the prior burden of a physically oriented workforce.
More Needs to be Done
There is more good news with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) investment to help women occupy skilled positions. According to 63% of top management who responded to a recent poll, DEI activities are succeeding.
But at the same time, 59% of Asian and 70% of African American professionals agree that manufacturing companies should be doing more to promote DEI. Middle-skilled talent is not adequately retained by training alone.
Building an inclusive culture requires ongoing training and no tolerance for unconscious prejudice. DEI training courses break that mold and lay the foundation to show that anyone from any background can reach those positions.
Manufacturers should focus attention on high schools and colleges to present students with the opportunity for mentorships and internships. The Manufacturing Institute uses programs like the National Girls Collaborative Project and Dream It. Do It to get kids interested in manufacturing activities. Such initiatives encourage young people to pursue manufacturing careers.
According to a recent McKinsey survey, the most effective initiatives that organizations had implemented to draw and retain women included boosting the visibility of senior executives who serve as role models, flexible work arrangements, and official and informal mentorship programs.
Progress toward gender equality in the industry will likely be gradual. As with any cultural transition, the drive to increase the number of women working in manufacturing requires positive social, operational, and personal improvements.
However, to ensure development, there are certain areas in which missteps must be called out and where change can be immediate, such as including DEI training at all levels of a factory.