Women make up at least half of the global workforce, but still constitute only 37% of manufacturing workers. As I write this article, I’m reflecting on my own career within the sector.
I’m a journalist who has been working within the technology/engineering/manufacturing sector for around seven years and during my career, I feel this statistic at every single event I attend. I find myself getting excited by the thought of seeing fellow females, why? Because manufacturing remains to be a male-dominated sector. This is not to say that things haven’t changed and improved over the years because they most definitely have. But I believe there is still a lot of work to be done.
That’s why I truly believe initiatives like today, International Women’s Day (IWD), are still so important. Contrary to the name, today isn’t just about women, and it’s certainly not anti-men like some people might think, it is about gender equality. And initiatives like today continue to be needed because we don’t yet have gender equality. Just take a minute to think about the statistics I stated above, really think about them. How many women do you have on your team? How many women does your company take an active effort to interview when hiring? At the next sector event you attend take a minute to look around you – how many women do you see?
I asked Jan Ward, Founder of Corrotherm International, suppliers of heat and corrosion resistant metals, her thoughts on gender equality within the
sector: “It is still a very male dominated; when I sit around board table meetings and industry events, I am surrounded by men but I do think it is changing, but it’s slow and it’s going to take time.
“I am heartened by the change I’ve seen over the sector, but the pace worries me. We haven’t got the mainstream media on board as much as we need to. We see a lot of information about how much young people can earn from becoming an influencer, but never about how much you can earn as an engineer. Engineering is one of the highest paid sectors, but it’s not often even considered.”
For this year’s IWD, we have a theme that couldn’t be more fitting for the manufacturing sector, #BreakTheBias. Like many STEM-based industries, manufacturing is crying out for skills and new talent, and is the middle of something of a perfect storm. Not only is there a death of people with traditional manufacturing-based qualifications in disciplines such as welding, CNC operating etc; manufacturers are also crying out for a whole raft of new digital skills (as the sector increasingly embraces technology), that they previously never knew they needed. Add to that the legacies of COVID-19 and Brexit, and it makes for grim reading with regards to the demand and supply imbalance around skills.
Joe Bush, Editor of The Manufacturer said: “The fact is that there aren’t enough young women entering a sector that is in dire need of talented young individuals – for me therefore, the answer is simple; encourage more young women into manufacturing and you will not only see greater gender diversity and parity, you will also see that skills gap begin to close. Young people equipped with the right skills will enable the sector to thrive, and as we all know, the more diverse a company is, the more successful it tends to be. However, we’re some way off achieving that.
“And of course, manufacturing is still labelled with a particular stereotype as a dirty business and certainly has to fight harder for the attention of young people than other sectors such as the arts or finance, (search for ‘engineer’ or ‘manufacturer’ on Google and you’ll be bombarded with images of people in hi-vis vests and hard hats). Therefore, IWD is vital to heighten that awareness, paint an accurate picture of manufacturing and to make more young women aware that it could be the career for them.”
Rosa Wilkinson, Director of Policy at High Value Manufacturing Catapult shares her thoughts on what breaking the bias means to her: “First of all, I think breaking the bias means breaking the culture of silence. Most of us will have been in workplaces where what people think is ‘banter’ is people objectifying women or people. Let’s stop being silent about it and call it out, let’s make it obvious when things aren’t right and make it uncomfortable for bad behaviours to persist.
“The manufacturing sector also needs to be presenting images of the sector that are genuinely diverse. Not just to young children coming up through school but also presenting them to those individuals who are running manufacturing businesses. We should be challenging them to challenge themselves.”
Ward added: “I think breaking the bias is all about changing people’s minds on what engineering and manufacturing actually is and highlighting the roles and women that already exist within the industry.
“It’s really important that we are also highlighting women that the younger generation can relate to; the pressures that women face today aren’t the same pressures that women faced when I was younger. We need role models that young women can look up to and can see their future selves in. We need to show young women what a career in manufacturing actually entails; it’s not just wearing a hard hat and muddy boots, it’s so much more than that.
“The industry could present itself much better; a lot of the photos we see are youngsters on site in hardhats. We need that of course, but what we’re not seeing are people focusing on the R&D side of manufacturing where it might be more technology- and software-based. There are endless opportunities within the sector which we must start to show the next generation. We need to show that there are plenty of women in the sector who can be role models, but we currently do not have enough.
“Another thing to keep in mind as that we are often guilty of saying the ‘engineering’ or ‘manufacturing’ sector. And this is a really broad term; I’d liken it to saying someone wants to go into the medical sector, which is of course huge and full of different specialities. The same applies for this industry and we need to be clearer around the roles that are available because there is so much for people to do. There is the obvious misconception that it’s a dirty, oily rag kind of craft but it truly isn’t. There’s a huge bias towards what people think being in manufacturing looks like and this really needs to change for our future generation.”
One way we often talk about breaking this bias is by bringing female engineers into schools for young people to interact with. More often than not, the racing cars and the fighter jets will be wheeled out. While most people can admit these are some pretty cool pieces of manufacturing to look at, not all young women will find these appealing or inspiring. Laura McBrown, Managing Director at G&B Electronic Manufacturing Services, shared her thoughts: “We need more relatable products to bridge the gap between engineering and women. Let’s get products that young women are interested in, whether it’s something significant like a breast scanner, or something superficial like how lipstick functions.”
Top pieces of advice for young women looking to enter the sector
There are so many opportunities for everyone in manufacturing, particularly women. McBrown added: “I think young women would be surprised by what the sector has to offer. I want young women to explore their own journey and they owe it to themselves to try something before ruling it out. To the young individuals looking to enter the sector, I say, ignore what may be popular in the industry, ignore the typical type of images you see around manufacturing and go and find out for yourself what manufacturing has to offer you.”
McBrown shared how her business is currently operating at a 50/50 split between men and women across the business. She explained that while the company are very happy with this, it’s not something they’ve actively pursued: “Where we’ve got more women involved in the recruitment and advertising side, writing different job descriptions, I think we’ve attracted women naturally because there are more women involved. We’ve also noticed that we’re attracting more younger people which is great to see considering the current skills gap the manufacturing industry is facing.”
Ward also shared her top pieces of advice for young women looking to enter the manufacturing sector: “If you get told ‘no’ – do not let it defeat you; be determined that this is what you want to do. It might take a while to get to the point where you start to show what you’re worth and what you’re capable of, but in the long run, it’s so worth it.
“Qualifications are absolutely key. If you can come to the table with really good qualifications and some practical experience, that’s a massive door opener as far as I’m concerned. Another point is don’t just be interested in the engineering aspect of the business, but also the commercial side too.”
Wilkinson continued: “For anybody entering any industry, don’t forget that you’ve got a voice and don’t be afraid to use it. One of the things I often see in young women is that they can often go quiet, particularly when they are outnumbered by male colleagues. But I want these young women to know that their voice matters!”
I recently spoke to a first-year apprentice with Make UK working for Seco Tools as part of National Apprenticeship Week in February. Aisha Mustafa is breaking gender stereotypes and helping to inspire the next generation of engineers, offering some advice to her fellow peers, she said: “Engineering and manufacturing are very male dominated sectors, but I don’t think that should be something to put women off. If anything, it should be more motivation to try and get into this sector, to prove that engineering is just as much for girls as it is for guys!
“Engineering is for anyone – it’s just something you have a passion for, regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what you like, and it brings people together. I don’t want young women to be put off by the fact that it is a male dominated sector. My biggest piece of advice would be, if it’s something you have a passion for, just go for it, regardless of what others might think.”
As mentioned previously, we need to get more role models to attract young people into the sector. Aisha commented: “There’s not as many women in this sector as there should be, so it’s really important that we have women in engineering and manufacturing roles to show other women that they can get into this field. Having role models is really important because they can make you feel really motivated!
“While it can be hard to live up to, I try to be a role model to help more young girls consider engineering careers, by attending events and explaining what engineering is about. I also share the benefits of apprenticeships as I know a lot of young people are pushed towards the university route, when it might not be right for them. Hopefully I can make a difference to other young people’s lives.”
Read the full article here.
How to make manufacturing a more diverse and inclusive sector
After speaking with many individuals in the manufacturing sector, of all genders, it is clear to see that there has been change in the sector, probably more than ever before, but there’s still work to be done.
One such company who I think are doing a fantastic job at ensuring they give equal opportunities to women and minority groups are Lander Group, supplier of assembled products, primarily in the Automotive Sector, specialising in fluid and air transfer systems, welded structures, interior trim products, and plastic tubular assemblies.
Speaking on this Len Palmer, Managing Director of Lander Group said: “We track and measure the diversity elements of the business to ensure everyone is given equal opportunities. We’ve taken a number of apprentices into the businesses who have special learning needs, and we’ve made adaptations for them to ensure that the programmes are tailored to ensure that all their needs are met.
“We are also actively encouraging more girls to join the business. Over the course of our programme, we’ve run at about 20% female intake on our apprentices. We really want to up this, but it has been a challenge in terms of encouraging more females that this is a good career path. I think one of the main successes of the programme is how we’ve actively adapted and managed the processes to accommodate such a diverse range of young people.”
Lander reviewed the diversity of its workforce against the local area and found that the majority working in their local area are 82% white, 12% BAME. This was reflective of Lander’s organisation too in 2016, when they had 85% white, 15% BAME and all of their BAME employees on-site were over the age of 25. The company wanted to reduce the ageing workforce first as the ratio was 51% over the age of 45, so they set a metric related to this and by 2019 they had 43% under the age of 35 and 53% were under the age of 40.
Lander did set a BAME target to increase from 15% to 25%; here are the actuals achieved in the past 4 years:
YEAR 1 – 35%
YEAR 2 – 55%
YEAR 3 – 40%
YEAR 4 – 64%
YEAR 5 – 59%
YEAR 6 – 53%
The company also set about trying to increase their female apprentices to 10% as their female operators and general employees, including agency, are at 43% female.
YEAR 1 – 3%
YEAR 2 – 3%
YEAR 3 – 4%
YEAR 4 – 7%
YEAR 5 – 0%
YEAR 6 – 5%
“This still continues to be a challenge, but we are actively engaging with local girls’ schools and initiatives such as GirlTech. Whilst we were conducting this level of monitoring, we realised that we were also increasing our neurodiverse apprentices and we are now capturing the data related to Single Parent Household and those that were in care,” explained Anita Davenport-Brooks, People Culture & Compliance Manager at Lander Group.
|SINGLE PARENT HOUSEHOLD||CARE||DIFFERING ABILITY|
Siemens is also another company who has continued its drive to increase the number of women in manufacturing with a recruitment event to spot the STEM talent of the future. Sarah Black-Smith, Head of Factory Operations at Siemens Congleton explained: “We are really keen to encourage more women and people from minority groups to join the manufacturing sector. Our programme supporting STEM in schools, our education website, SeeMe (where 70% felt inspired to pursue a career in STEM, compared with 38% prior to the site’s launch), and events such as Women in STEM at our Manchester office are aimed at this.
“I was delighted to take part in our Women in STEM event, meeting amazing female STEM students. Women only make up 24% of the STEM workforce in the UK. The event fast tracked 33 students into early career opportunities across our businesses. In 2021, our virtual work experience programme attracted 500 participants – 45% female and 60.3% BAME representation. We also use an augmented writing tool to ensure all our job postings use diverse and inclusive language.
“We also offer flexible working options to be more inclusive. Siemens is also Part of MAKE UK ED&I working group and the Apprenticeships Diversity Champions Network, and we chair the Women in STEM working group.”
It’s clear to see that if we truly want equality in our workplaces, then everyone has to be willing to speak about it. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are for everyone. Change happens when we’re all pushing together. As Rosa said in our discussion: “Never forget the power of peer pressure and visibility.”
While this article focuses on celebrating the voices of women in the manufacturing sector, at The Manufacturer we want to champion all underrepresented voices in the industry. If you have a story to tell, please get in touch with Lanna Deamer – [email protected]