Promoting diversity and inclusivity in manufacturing

Posted on 18 Dec 2023 by The Manufacturer

As COO and Co-Founder at Origin, the UK’s leading manufacturer of aluminium doors and windows, Victoria Brocklesby has dedicated over two decades to building a business that champions equal opportunities in an industry traditionally dominated by men. A strong advocate for women in manufacturing, she uses her experience to support and encourage more women into the industry at all levels.

Here, she explains how employers in the manufacturing sector can foster a company culture that supports inclusivity and diversity.

When I co-founded Origin in 2002, the manufacturing industry was at its lowest rate of female employment. The number of women in factories had dropped significantly since the 1970s, mainly due to the rise of service sector jobs. In the early seventies, manufacturing was made up 29% of female employees, but by 1992, this had fallen to just 12%.

Despite industry-wide strides in recent years, and more women now thriving in the workplace, there is still significant room for improvement. Although women represent almost half of the labour force in the UK, they account for just 26% of all workers in the manufacturing sector.

So, how do businesses and employers promote diversity and inclusivity in a sector clouded by historic negative statistics and stereotypes?

Breaking barriers and creating a level playing field

To drive inclusivity and diversity in the manufacturing sector, employers should start by focusing on their internal company culture as this sets the tone for how the company is perceived. Fostering a supportive and welcoming company culture starts with the goal of equality and is driven by growing as a business and hiring the right type of people. Working with people who share the right values is essential to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. Otherwise, you risk creating a barrier that hinders women’s entry into manufacturing.

The Origin adventure began with a commitment to building a company culture from scratch, one that values people for their contributions, not their gender. From the outset, we’ve had a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any form of discrimination in the company. We have always afforded our employees equal opportunities in all roles throughout the business no matter who they are. This, coupled with a focus on shared values, has allowed us to sidestep many of the pitfalls that businesses can fall into in terms of traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Traditionally male-dominated roles, including on the factory floor, have successfully welcomed women, and thrived because of it. Not only has it improved the working environment but also brought in fresh skills, thinking and perspectives.

Visibility and perception are both key to discrediting stereotypes. If we see someone who looks like us in a particular role, we are reassured and encouraged that we can do that too. That it’s achievable. In this respect, we should be seeing women holding prominent roles across all departments, for example in senior leadership teams where they can drive meaningful change that directly impacts other women’s opportunities.

At Origin, women are in prominent roles in all departments of the company, from sales, marketing, and customer service through to transport, data analysis, and production. Our Operational Board of Directors includes several female members and women hold positions at every level, including Heads of Departments, Directors, Executives, and Assistants. In fact, a third of our senior leadership team is female.

By hiring people with the right attitude, we’ve built and nurtured a culture of diversity and inclusion.

My advice to other employers in manufacturing is simple: do the same. Prioritise company culture and invest in effectively communicating your core values throughout the business. Skills can be taught, but culture is more fundamental.

Your company culture influences your company perception. A business that has a discouraging attitude and treats employees as just employees there to churn out work, will have a hard time attracting the right personalities into the business – or keeping their top talent at all. Fostering a good company culture that continuously shows up for its employees and views all people as equal will naturally be welcoming to those who perhaps are already battling stereotypes around the role and sector.

Employing women in an industry that is traditionally dominated by men opens your factory floor and board meetings up to untapped talent and diversity of thought. Secondary to this, manufacturing companies that want to make seriously impactful changes can also explore how to encourage more women to study and pursue manufacturing in the first place, as only 35% of engineering students are female, for example.

Final thoughts

Whilst there’s plenty that needs to be done, there are some companies out there that want to make a real change for the future of the industry. I am optimistic that women aspiring to join the industry in the future won’t be deterred by outdated perceptions that manufacturing is exclusively for men, and that the industry can level out the playing field for good.

Not only does all this work help close the gender gap, but a more inclusive work culture will also help encourage other minorities to join the industry too.

Find out more about Origin, the UK’s leading aluminium windows and doors manufacturer.

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