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Engaging Nontraditional Manufacturing Talent: Women

Article written by Chris Cunningham, PhD, UC Foundation Professor of Psychology, Alicia Kumar ,Lead Working Group Facilitator & Graduate Assistant, Industrial and Organizational Psychology Department, and Spencer Paulson, Graduate Assistant, Industrial and Organizational Psychology Department, all from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Another overlooked talent group to hire in the manufacturing industry is women. As of 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women only comprise 29.3% of the workforce in this industry. This figure highlights the real opportunity that exists to increase the representation and involvement of women in manufacturing. At the Smart Workforce Conference held in December 2022, many subject matter experts (SMEs) opted to participate in the working group focused on this topic. For details on this event and the methods used to gather the information summarized in this post, please check out the first post in this series.

What is the manufacturing industry doing well to reach this talent group?

The SMEs who participated in this working group identified how the manufacturing industry is successfully accommodating women in the workforce. Resources are increasingly being provided to support working women, including: PTO, paid parental leave, childcare assistance, flexible work hours, and competitive pay. Some of these resources specifically accommodate working mothers who need the flexibility to prioritize their children, signaling that the manufacturing industry recognizes the responsibilities that these workers have to their families. The other benefits or resources just listed are not restricted for use by women but provide resources that allow for fair compensation rates and flexible work schedules that may not commonly be found in other industries. The manufacturing industry is also increasingly sharing examples of women role-models within manufacturing, often while investing in developing interest in manufacturing careers among female students at K through 12 grade levels.

What is the manufacturing industry not doing well to accommodate this talent group?

The participating SMEs in this working group also identified areas that need improvement for women specifically. One challenge consistently noted in the discussions of this working group involved the wording in most manufacturing job descriptions. Such descriptions are often male-oriented in word choices and unnecessarily vague, failing to provide the information women need to make an informed decision about applying for a position. When women secure a manufacturing job, another commonly noted issue involves the lack of communication about opportunities that exist in the workplace for women, specifically opportunities in job promotion and education. Because women are underrepresented in manufacturing, their professional social networks are often less developed than for their male counterparts. An implication of this, is that promotional opportunities may pass by female and go to male employees who are “better connected” and therefore more visible and known among managers and other decision makers. Also, career development and other education opportunities are commonly available to manufacturing workers, but not always offered and communicated in a way that facilitates access for working women in this industry. For example, many women are unaware that at least some educational opportunities can be pursued while still working (provided of course that other needs such as child or elder car, etc. can be met). There are many opportunities to help women in manufacturing understand and take advantage of available education and professional development opportunities.

What can the manufacturing industry do better to attract and retain this type of talent?

The working group members identified that one successful strategy to better attract this talent specifically is to increase job description transparency by including information about work schedules, accurate hourly/salary pay ranges, actual required KSAOs, and the typical tasks performed on the job. For working mothers especially, advanced knowledge of the work schedule and any flexibility/accommodation options is essential to enable informed decision making. Similarly, accurate salary ranges need to be posted so candidates can apply to jobs that meet their financial needs. Again, for working women who may have to pay for childcare assistance while working, the absence of this information leads to applicants having to operate without full information and this can result in fewer high-quality job applicants and high levels of early-stage turnover (if pre-hire expectations about these types of details are not met soon after hire). Aside from transparent job descriptions, the SMEs in this working group recommended pairing newly hired women with other experienced women employees through mentorship programs. Providing women with these role models and resources increases the likelihood of retaining this talent group long-term.

Considering the potential for this overlooked talent group, women can greatly contribute to manufacturing industry if properly accommodated by attracting them with more accurate job descriptions, providing flexible work and support options, and connecting them through mentorship programs.

The Smart Factory Institutes understands how important the involvement of women are in manufacturing. Join Million Women Mentors Tennessee in collaboration with Learning Blade, United Way of Greater Chattanooga, WiM Tennessee, TN China Network, and McKee Foods, as they host International Women's Day at the Smart Factory Institute @ the PIE Center in Cleveland, TN on Thursday, March 9th. Hear stories from national and international leaders who are advancing and embracing equity for girls and women in STEM fields. Through this event, we hope to inspire the future workforce to explore STEM and international career opportunities. Get your free tickets now!

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