The under-representation of women in manufacturing is an issue that is rightly being addressed through efforts to recruit more young women into frontline manufacturing careers in engineering and production.
Less attention is being paid to other areas within the sector where women are under-represented, such as the supply chain. A new networking group aims to fix that.
It is a matter of simple fact that one of the best ways manufacturing can solve the ever-troubling skills gap is to bring more women into all roles, from top to bottom and across the board (and on the board.) This process is harder at some levels than others.
Training more women engineers depends on educational decisions made much earlier in life than for other roles, for reasons that are obvious.
But that tends to be where most efforts are focused – on attracting girls into STEM and encouraging them into engineering apprenticeships at the vocational or degree level.
There is a wide swath of other areas in manufacturing where attracting and promoting women is less qualification-dependent, and the supply chain is perhaps the most significant among them.
According to the Gartner 2019 Women in the Supply Chain report, women represent 37% of the whole supply chain workforce, and 14% of the most senior roles (see graphic below).
What is notable from the Gartner findings is that apart from a jump in the number of women in senior roles from 2016-17, little progress is otherwise being made.
Average proportion of women in supply chain leadership roles:
This is why Beth Morgan set up boom!, a global networking community designed to increase the representation of women at all levels in the supply chain.
For Beth, the clincher is that increasing diversity is not just a virtue for virtue’s sake: companies that develop a more diverse workforce across all minorities – gender, sexuality, faith, ethnicity – consistently outperform those that don’t.
That said, she fully understands that saying it is easier than doing it. There is a great deal of work to be done in changing mindset and unconscious bias, as well as understanding of the sector as a whole.
“Perhaps the biggest challenge is one of overall perception of the opportunities offered within the manufacturing industry and what such a career might look like,” she says.
“This has definitely changed for the better over recent years – and efforts to promote the industry to the younger generation through initiatives such as The Big Bang programme, which brings STEM subjects to life for budding scientists and engineers, can only serve to help.
This article first appeared in the November issue of The Manufacturer magazine. Click here to subscribe
“At boom! we’re fortunate to have Melanie Cook, the chief operating officer at GE Appliances as a member of our board and a champion for women in manufacturing.
“GE Appliances is a great example of an organisation that is tackling this issue by working very closely with their local education system near its headquarters to provide a bridge to encourage more people (of both genders) into a career in manufacturing through practical learning and apprenticeship programmes.
“The more companies can take this into their own hands and be proactive about tackling the image problem by changing perceptions and opening up opportunities, the better.”
Attracting people into jobs, which in previous years they would have been regarded as unsuitable for, is only possible if they can see people who look like them already there.
Beth Morgan believes this is the fundamental issue boom! is designed to crack.
“The paucity of female role models in what has been, and still is, a male-dominated sector, creates a vicious circle,” she says.
“One way for businesses to help tackle this is to proactively give platforms to female employees to talk about their work, not only in schools and colleges, but also more generally through speaking at conferences and other media opportunities.
“Within the boom! community we post interviews with trailblazing female supply chain leaders who have reached the very top of their profession, as well as sharing the stories of women who are some 10-15 years into their careers.
“Having footsteps to follow in, and role models to inspire, is a critical way of not only attracting more women into the profession, but also to ensure they stay.”
So, what should company leaders be doing now to address a lack of diversity in their workplace – and in their boardrooms?
“Consider starting with a benchmarking exercise to determine where and how your efforts should be prioritised,” Beth says.
“Is the problem a shortfall of women applying during the recruitment process, for example? Are female employees applying for internal positions at similar rates as male candidates? Is the attrition rate for women typically higher? Why is that?
“There may be a positive trend in the number of women joining the profession at entry level, but for many companies, the challenge can be in retaining female employees and increasing the number of women at more senior levels.
“There are many practical steps that can be taken to address this, but one of the most impactful ways of both attracting and progressing female employees is to focus on improved pipeline planning.
“A more formalised, consistent and transparent approach to developing and sponsoring high potential employees benefits both men and women, ensuring that the best candidates are found for internal roles.
“The bottom line is that in a world where there is increasing competition for quality candidates, companies that don’t focus on this issue stand to lose out.
“Indeed, Gartner’s most recent Women in the Supply Chain survey shows that the number of respondents leading formalised initiatives has increased from 44% to 60% in just one year. Are you ready?”