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Jennifer McNelly: Women in Manufacturing — An Untapped Resource

Jennifer Mcnelly The Manufacturing Institute
September 18, 2014
Janae Owens, an Environment, Health and Safety Manager at GE, is an example of an exceptional leader. Exceptional, in part, because she overcame the odds of being a woman in manufacturing and becoming the go-to EHS Specialist with GE On-site Machining and Repairs. Because of her great work, Janae was honored as a STEP Award Honoree in 2014.

Women like Janae — leaders in manufacturing — are the success stories that need to be told to help the manufacturing industry rise to its greatest potential. While 80 percent of manufacturers report the impacts of skills gap, the industry also faces a shortage of women in the workforce, representing only 24 percent of the manufacturing labor force.

Women are vital to the growth and profitability of the manufacturing industry. Seventy-five percent of women agree that a career in manufacturing is interesting and rewarding. Women represent manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent, which makes them a critical factor in closing the skills gap.

Women are the future of manufacturing industry leaders and essential to the success of the industry. That is why in 2012, The Manufacturing Institute launched the Science, Technology, Engineering and Production (STEP) Ahead initiative to honor and promote the role of women in the manufacturing industry through recognition, research and leadership.

The STEP Awards program, part of the STEP Ahead initiative, highlights the stories of women and their manufacturing leadership to inspire the next generation of female leaders and support current female talent within the industry. These awards illustrate the widespread impact women have on shaping the industry, whether they are running the company, designing the next big product or testing innovations on the shop floor.

In fact, there are several best practices to attract and retain more women in that can be implemented:

Create alignment. In an organization, senior leaders and executives must be united around the priority of promoting women in the manufacturing industry. Senior leaders should communicate their company’s progress toward meeting this goal to diversify their organization. Transparency is key.

Build a flexible work environment. Manufacturers that create a flexible work environment will attract more workers in general. Women and men both look for flexibility in the workplace, which can be achieved by creating a “results-driven” environment. This means rewarding workers that produce results regardless of when or where the work is being done, allowing time for employees to balance their personal needs, as well.

Break stereotypes. Organizations should attempt to break the stereotype that associates only men with leadership qualities. Implementing training to address this issue head on is a great way for others to become aware of their own unconscious gender biases and, in turn, encourage impartial actions and decisions.

Encourage sponsorship. Creating sponsorships within an organization helps support the promotion of women into leadership positions. A sponsor is a mentor, a coach and a vocal advocate for an individual who can assist with a person’s professional development. In order to develop professionally, women should be provided with a clear understanding of the leadership and technical skills required for specific positions. This will allow women to lay out specific goals to improve and work towards.

Change perceptions. Finally, manufacturers can recruit more women into the industry by simply breaking the negative connotations associated with manufacturing. Sending executive and leading women to recruit next-generation workers can help break down these false perceptions. Targeting women graduates with strong STEM skills and supporting STEM education initiatives will increase the likelihood in recruiting women into the industry. Recruiters should stress to women the advantages of becoming role models as career-oriented women.

Women have made an essential impact on one of the most important industry sectors affecting the economy, our standards of living  and general well being. We need encourage and recognize amazing women like Janae and share their stories with the world!

Jennifer McNelly is President of The Manufacturing Institute.


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