Gender Gap Workforce Solutions – Part 2 in a Series

In my last blog, I introduced the re-emerging topic of women being part of the solution to the talent gap in skilled manufacturing jobs. The concept is far from new, because we know how critical women were from 1940 to 1945 when the term “Rosie the Riveter” was born. A report just released by Deloitte, the Manufacturing Institute and APICS (the supply chain council) measured the number of women in manufacturing at less than 30 percent. Yet women make up 47% of the workforce. Since these are general numbers, the first thing we recommend to our readers is to consider the specifics at your company. Are women representing about 50% of your workforce? Should they be? If your answer is “they should be, but they are not,” you are not alone, and “read on”!

To start addressing lopsidedness in the gender of your workforce, try some focus on three areas: the current recruiting program, the long-time-in-the-future recruiting program, and the workplace environment.

Differently Designed Recruiting Programs

You already know “image matters”. Since recruiting is simply a specialized form of marketing, “image matters” in recruiting, too.  The challenge starts with the poor image manufacturing has in general to today’s workers. Add to this the challenge of giving manufacturing an image that is attractive to women workers, and you have just reduced the odds exponentially. The good news is, often it is an image problem more than it is a problem of the actual environment and opportunity.

  • Rhonda Matschke, senior vice president of human resources at Generac Power Systems, in Waukesha, WI states the “image” problem this way: “We need to be sure that we are branding manufacturing for what it is today, and not what it has been in the past.”
  • The Deloitte University study(1) says: “The image of the manufacturing industry as ‘dirty, dumb, dangerous, and disappearing’ has persisted … today [these companies] are pristine environments housing highly advanced production machines and processes.
  • GLTAAC’s blogger, Parker Finn, has also shared ideas for creating apprenticeships and internships that address the “attractiveness” issue of manufacturing.
  • So first address the image of manufacturing in general, and then take one step further to hone your image to be attractive to women. For example, go beyond ‘word of mouth.’
    • Too many manufacturers, especially small ones, rely on their own workforce, usually all men, to recruit their replacements. A new workforce strategy would focus on learning what prospective female workers want in a manufacturing job. Starting with top management, get out and talk to women who are working in your community and ask them what they value about their workplace. Take notes on the items that your company already offers or could easily add. You’ve just scripted the vocabulary for your next job-posting.
    • Next, find out where to place your ads. Today’s on-line strategies enable targeting in more ways than yesterday’s classifieds. Talented women workers may be looking at gardening and on-line photo album sites, more than content related to football and auto-repair.

Start young

Manufacturers will need to start young to “build the talent pipeline.”  A ‘workforce forecast’ spreadsheet (like the one described in my last blog) can help, and many manufacturers may see how it makes sense to invest in future sources of talent. One Ohio manufacturer partnered with an educational group in the community to create a Girl Scout program to give young girls a positive experience of manufacturing. It resulted in great headlines like, “Can you Weld Like an Eight-Year-Old Girl?

Women introducing Girl Scouts to Welding

Girl Scout Welding at STEM & Manufacturing Workshop







A consulting group based in metro Cincinnati created the “America’s Manufacturing Crisis” infographic shown here and displays it repeatedly on websites and on banners to heighten awareness of the importance of developing tomorrow’s manufacturing leaders.

Fearless Factory Infographic

Another great example comes from Jackson, Michigan and the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association (JAMA) which has a long-running Academy for Manufacturing Careers. Their 2015 line-up up youth programs includes “Girl M-Powered”, a week-long summer camp for girls in grades K – 6. By learning to weld and run a CNC machine, girls gain confidence in science and math skills, develop leadership skills and improve their critical thinking and problem solving techniques.

Create a Welcoming Workplace Environment

The 2015 “Women in Manufacturing Study” by Deloitte, APICS (the supply chain council) and the Manufacturing Institute gives us a general list of what motivates women to join and stay in a manufacturing facility. They found the most “impactful programs their organizations offer” are:Poster: Wanted - More Women in Manufacturing

  1. Flexible work practices
  2. Formal and informal mentorship and sponsorship programs
  3. Improved visibility of key leaders who serve as role models.
  • The first one on this list, flexibility, is fortunately becoming more commonplace. Even WalMart has announced flexibility in scheduling as part of their newest corporate social responsibility program. They have installed new software that enables more workers to enter and obtain preferred schedules, without compromising a supervisor’s ability to make sure a shift is covered.
  • A blog in GE’s “Idea Lab” blog highlights the next two points. The author, Jennifer McNelly, President of The Manufacturing Institute, suggests sponsorship programs and actively working to break leadership stereotypes are important best practices for retaining female talent. She says, “…a sponsor is a mentor, a coach and a vocal advocate for a [woman employee] who can assist with that person’s professional development.”

At GLTAAC we recognize that recruiting and retaining women is only going to be part of the talent gap solution. But it may be a relatively easy solution that many small and medium-sized manufacturers may be ignoring. After all, business leaders today were not around in 1945 when Rosie the Riveter was the main welder on the production line.


(1)Deloitte University, Help wanted: American manufacturing competitiveness and the looming skills gap , Deloitte Review Issue 16