Addressing the manufacturing gender gap

Posted on 15 Nov 2018 by Maddy White

The gender gap in manufacturing is stark, and we all know it. But, there are solutions to improving this overt problem. TM heard some of these and the possible answers at the LCR4.0 Solution Theatre at Smart Factory Expo earlier today.

The panel discussion was held in the LCR4.0 Solution Theatre at TM's Smart Factory Expo.
The panel discussion was held in the LCR4.0 Solution Theatre at TM’s Smart Factory Expo.

The panel speaking at Women in LCR4.0 included senior female manufacturers, STEM ambassadors and academics, as the issue of a lack of women in manufacturing was delved into.

The problem

Starting with the tragic statistics that only 11% of UK engineers, 15% of engineering graduates and 20% of A-level physics students are female, the women reflected on why that is, and their own experiences.

Hannah Ankrah, who previously worked for a global automotive company based in the UK, and is now currently studying in Liverpool, said: “I love cars, but the environment at the moment in manufacturing isn’t for me.

“I am a mixed race woman, and when I walked around the factory I’d get wolf-whistled at. I left after three months. I loved the job, but it isn’t female-friendly. This is why I want to go into HR now, to stop that happening.”

Ankrah’s experience is an extremely disappointing one. Her career direction has changed because she didn’t feel comfortable as a woman in a manufacturing environment. Things have to change.


How can we solve this?

There are many people; teachers, parents, peers, colleagues, that could be blamed for the lack of diversity among the manufacturing and engineering industries.

The Manufacturer previously held a Women and Diversity Summit earlier this year attempting to address some of the challenges to overcome, and how we can move this glacial pace of change into something acceptable. Read the key takeaways here.

The day’s first panel discussion debated how society and industry can overcome the barriers to achieving equality - image courtesy of The Manufacturer.
The Women & Diversity Summit held earlier this year by TM debated how industry can overcome the barriers to achieving equality – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

Michelle Dow, managing director at All About STEM, said: “If you have governed a culture that only certain people work in certain industries this can of course be hard to change. We need to go back to the beginning. We talk about the skills gap all the time, but really we need to challenge everything.”

She added: “We can talk all day about the problems, but there are also so many solutions.”

Some of these solutions include; teaching parents and educators about the sector, to allow them to encourage their children into a prosperous career, and from an early age making girls aware of all the opportunities the manufacturing sector holds, as discussed by the panel.

Jennifer Wallace, senior technology officer at MTC, said her experience in industry has been a positive one. Wallace said: “Why is diversity such a thing? At the MTC we are all driving for change, men and women. We want to improve diversity in manufacturing and that is exactly what we are doing.”

The discussion ended with the notion things have to change, and they will. Manufacturing businesses are introducing initiatives and pushing diversity in industry forward, and these women clearly represent what a virtuous path the sector offers. 

Smart Factory Expo is Europe’s largest digital manufacturing show – presenting the most extensive free programme of presentations across seven stages, 150+ exhibitors, and thousands of digitally-savvy manufacturers.

It is the largest component of Digital Manufacturing Week, an annual celebration of UK manufacturing excellence that takes place every November in Liverpool. This year saw 5,322 visitors to Digital Manufacturing Week (up 36% on 2017).

Clear your diary and join us next year: 13-14 Nov 2019!