Based on the volume of feedback from my June 2013 Insights column, the topic of women in engineering is a hot issue. Women wrote about how they have been discriminated against in school and the workplace. Some men wrote about how they thought women were being given unfair advantage simply because of their gender.
Regardless, if we’re going to remain a viable manufacturing center with strong economic growth, the role of women—more than half of the population!—has to increase.
The Senate’s Joint Economic Committee recently released a report on women in manufacturing, and it paints a very interesting picture. Women make up one-third of the United States’ manufacturing sector. Between February 2010 and April 2013, manufacturing employment grew by 530,000 jobs, but during that same period, jobs for women in the sector actually decreased by 28,000. Among the findings of the study are:
- Women’s share of employment in manufacturing peaked at 32% in 1990
- Women currently comprise 27% of manufacturing employment, the lowest rate since 1971
- Of the 3.3 million women in manufacturing, 16% work in food manufacturing, 11% work in transportation equipment and 10% work in computer and electronics
- The perception that manufacturing is a stagnant industry is hurting in the recruitment of female workers
- 600,000 openings that require advanced skills exist in manufacturing
- 70% of women in manufacturing would encourage their sons to pursue a career in manufacturing, but only 55% would encourage their daughters to do so
It’s fairly obvious that manufacturing has long been seen as a male-favored culture, and that—more than anything else—probably dissuades women from following that career path, whether in production, sales, or engineering. Even at the top, females hold a mere 17% of board seats, 12% of executive officers and 6% of CEOs.
After reading the report, it’s clear that people’s perceptions of manufacturing in general are either off-base or seriously rooted in the past. The long-standing stigma that jobs in manufacturing take a great deal of physical labor still seems to resonate. That view is outdated. Our manufacturing facilities have changed. Robots handle the heavy lifting. Physical strength is no longer a job requirement, mental acuity is—and both sexes have that skill. Even before we lost the steel industry, it had gone high-tech with very few workers on the floor. Most were in air-conditioned sky boxes watching steel production on powerful computers as well as from the control centers.
Manufacturing is a high-tech industry, but much of the country doesn’t see us that way. We need to change people’s minds about what we do and who we are, both in women’s minds and in men’s.
How can we change people’s minds about manufacturing today? Comment on Paul’s blog on Pneumatic Tips.
Paul J. Heney – Editorial Director
Filed Under: Design World articles