The business case for more female leaders in the manufacturing sector

Women in the workplace

The business case for more female leaders in the manufacturing sector

Over the past 40 years or so, there has been no shortage of research on the impact of women in the workplace, particularly in senior roles. Not to put too fine a point on it, the correlation is a clear one. More women in senior roles lead to better business performance and a healthier bottom line.

Given that there are solid commercial drivers as well as social ones, it is one of the more perplexing mysteries that there is still such a male / female disparity in certain sectors. Data from the US Census Bureau shows that just 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce is female, and it is reasonable to assume that the statistics in the UK are not dissimilar. 

Why the shortage?

The first thing to understand is that it is not a case of female candidates being passed over in a male-dominated sector. There is simply not the talent to choose from as far fewer women than men choose to follow careers in the manufacturing sector. 

Typically, manufacturing is not promoted in schools as an exciting and desirable career – particularly for young women. However, this is exactly when those all-important decisions are made about which subjects to study – decisions that directly influence career choices in later life. 

Of course, there are plenty of different types of manufacturing businesses out there, from heavy industry to niche startups in the food or fashion sectors. But one thing they all have in common is that functions in which women are usually well-represented, such as HR, PR, and marketing are often outsourced. This means there is not the same opportunity for starting in one function and making the sideways steps into general management that are seen in other sectors. 

Driving change

These industry conditions are not going to alter, so if manufacturing companies are serious about seeing more women in senior roles and gaining all the business advantages that this will bring, they need to be proactive about driving change. Yet understanding the social and commercial advantages of a diverse workforce is one thing. Knowing what to do about it is another. 

Mentoring schemes are a proven and effective way of addressing the question and developing more female leaders, but in the manufacturing sector, in particular, there are shortcomings. One is that this might help develop women who are already within the sector, but it does nothing to address that initial shortage. The other is that there is a tendency to only use female mentors, thereby creating something of a “girls club” mentality that does nothing to promote the collaborative approach that is so important. 

Focus on diversity

Perhaps the key is to think less about men or women but more in terms of diversity in its broadest sense and at every layer of the business. From career fairs to executive training courses, seeking to attract and retain a diverse pool of knowledge and talent, in terms of gender and also of race, background and so on makes for a healthier and more successful business, whatever sector it is operating in. 

Poppy Watt