Terry Scuoler, CEO of EEF, told guests at its annual Women in Manufacturing report launch event manufacturers have a vital role to play in driving diversity, but do not expect a silver bullet.
Scuoler made the remarks as part of his welcome speech to launch the third annual assessment of female boardroom representation in the sector, sponsored by Lloyds bank.
The report found that women now account for 23% of total board seats in FTSE 100 manufacturers, up from 19% in 2013 and 21% last year. 25% of new board appointments in FTSE 100 manufacturers are now going to women – up from 19% last year.
However, the split between executive and non-executive roles remains a challenge for the sector. While the female share of non-executive roles has increased (up from 25% last year to 28% today), their share of executive roles remains static at 8%. Only five of the 25 FTSE 100 manufacturing companies have a female executive director.
The report points to this being a symptom of a wider challenge. Women accounted for only 7% of those starting an ‘Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies’ apprenticeship in 2012/13 and continue to make up only 23% of the manufacturing workforce.
This suggests that there is not a ‘short-term fix’ on the horizon. Instead, the focus must be on building the overall talent pipeline, while addressing the worryingly low number of women within it. Only then will the sector start to see a sustainable solution to the under-representation of women at every level including, in the longer-term, at executive director level.
Scuoler, said: “Every single FTSE 100 manufacturer has at least one woman on their board. More importantly, most of those yet to reach 25% female board representation are a hair’s breadth away.
“Britain’s leading manufacturers are stepping up to meet Lord Davies’ challenge but, there is still some way to go.
“Simply meeting the target is not enough. The imbalance in our sector between the number of women in executive and non-executive roles is a symptom of a wider challenge.
“It tells us that we are failing to tap into the entire talent pool and must strive to not only build and maintain a satisfactory pipeline of talent, but also address the worryingly low number of women within it.
“Until we attract more female apprentices, graduates and other new entrants we will continue to see women under-represented at all levels in manufacturing, including the boardroom. Failing to tap into this rich resource is a wasted opportunity given our sector’s pressing and long-term need for skills.”
David Atkinson, head of Manufacturing, Commercial Banking SME, Lloyds Bank, said: “As manufacturing continues to play a pivotal role in aiding the growth of the British economy, the onus remains on the industry to encourage the development of skilled workers.
“That includes creating a more diverse workforce with a greater female representation. Offering access to inspirational female role models remains vital to achieving these objectives, helping to eliminate old stereotypes, and providing evidence of what young women can achieve by pursuing their ambitions.
“As part of our Helping Britain Prosper Plan, we have committed to better represent the diversity of our customer base and our communities at all levels which is why we are aiming to have 40% of senior roles held by women at Lloyds Banking Group by 2020.”
Jane Cox, partner at Weightmans, said: “From a legal perspective, recent legislation such as opening up flexible working to all employees and the incoming shared parental leave rules help to make workplaces more female-friendly and these changes can also help companies to retain female talent.
“In the past we have seen women struggle to continue their career trajectory after taking time off to have children, but by offering flexible working, employers are opening up the channels of opportunity for women to progress to the board room.
“Of course, there is still more work to be done but these encouraging figures show that the manufacturing sector is certainly making strides in the right direction.”
Also speaking at the event will be Kate Bellingham, ex-presenter of Tomorrow’s World and a passionate promoter of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and Jade Aspinall, advanced apprentice at MBDA.