Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Balance for Better. This topic certainly resonates with the UK manufacturing industry which, although improving, still has a stark gender imbalance.
Only 24% of UK STEM jobs are held by women according to campaign group WISE, and within UK engineering for example, only around 11% of engineers are female. Women play a peripheral role within science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) industries, and this shouldn’t be the case.
Women in manufacturing
“I grew up in a small village in Yorkshire. I loved science at school and wanted to follow my passion.” Philippa Glover, operations director at Liverpool-based CNC Robotics, tells The Manufacturer.
“Whilst at college, I did many odd jobs, one of which was working for the master data team at Croda (an international chemicals company). This gave me a glimpse into what it was like working in the manufacturing sector.”
Glover then went on to Sheffield University to study for a Masters degree in Chemistry with an industrial placement. “I was offered a placement at P&G. It was a fantastic experience and I was fortunate to be offered a full-time job following my placement. I then went back to do my Masters, and returned a year later to work there for a little while.
“After eventually moving on, I continued to enjoy a successful career working within the FMCG sector. I had a really great future ahead of me and worked in both R&D and operations. However, after I had my first child it felt like this had all been put on hold for me. It was a huge turning point in my life.”
Businesses with a more equal gender balance were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability than those without, according to a 2018 report by McKinsey, Delivering through Diversity.
The ‘leaky pipeline’ challenge
Women working in manufacturing and STEM careers face the ‘leaky pipeline’ challenge. This is where they leave their job at some point over the course of their career and fail to return.
Buddhini Samarasinghe, founder of STEM Women previously told The Manufacturer that the “biggest problem” was not getting women into STEM but it was actually keeping them there.
“Women get into STEM okay, you go through a lot of studying and interviews that you were already biased against and you have a fair amount of battle scars getting into the profession, but then women see no progression, so it is how to keep them in STEM.”
Susan Henry, director of calibration development at Cummins UK, a global engine manufacturer, also previously spoke to TM about her career in industry, which has seen her working at the company for over 15 years.
She said, “I love my job and there are many positives, but we still have room to grow in terms of the acceptance of women in leadership roles in our work with customers, suppliers and even, at times, within our own company. Sometimes you’ll get a promotion and not everyone is happy about that; there will always be people who think it is because you are a woman.”
The sector needs more mentoring and leadership opportunities to support women returning to their careers in manufacturing. Glover continued, “Whilst on maternity leave with my second child my role was made redundant. I almost left the sector because of this experience.”
Not just a “woman’s problem anymore”
“But this is a sector that I love, and I now work for CNC Robotics, a technology and engineering SME business,” Glover says. “I feel privileged and proud to work for them. What my challenges have taught me is, as a woman, to be brave and believe in yourself.”
However she explains that more needs to be done to create equal opportunities for all and to support people no matter who they are, or their background.
Glover adds, “It’s important that there are role models for people to look up to throughout their career. Manufacturing is a sector I love and we especially need to do more to help women feel supported at key junctures in their careers. I don’t just work in this sector because I have to; I work in this sector because I want to.”
Henry on a positive note, does see welcome change in industry. “Over the years, I have noticed a difference – gender diversity is not seen as a woman’s problem anymore, something women must fix. It is a team effort to have diversity. I think that businesses are realising that there are advantages to having a diverse workforce, whereas before they did not.”
This International Women’s Day we must continue to champion women in industry, but also crucially not forget the challenges they still face.
Join us for the People & Skills Manufacturing Summit 2019!
Manufacturers on the right side of history will be talking about increasing British industry’s share of the UK talent pool – by boosting participation from women and minority groups in the manufacturing workforce.
People & Skills Manufacturing Summit forms part of Digital Manufacturing Week held in Liverpool on 14 November 2019. Register now!