“Vicious Cycle” Keeps Women from Advancing in Manufacturing

Feb. 10, 2013
While women already employed in manufacturing are happy, there’s a sense that bias keeps them out of management positions.

Overall, women in manufacturing are pleased with the quality of their jobs in manufacturing, with over 75 percent surveyed by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute agreeing that a manufacturing career is interesting and rewarding. Nevertheless, manufacturers are still struggling to attract female candidates.

In 2012, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute surveyed more than 600 women in manufacturing, across functional roles and levels, to find out why this is the case.  Prior research found that few companies in the automotive sector, one of the largest sectors in the U.S. manufacturing industry, have recruitment programs targeting women. This seems to be an industry-wide norm with interview participants finding it difficult to describe their companies’ efforts to attract women.

Participants highlighted compensation (37 percent) and opportunities for challenging assignments (34 percent) as the top reasons to stay in the industry. More than half of the women surveyed agreed that if they were starting their careers today, they would choose to pursue a job in manufacturing.

However, only one of five respondents (20 percent) believes that manufacturing currently does a good job of presenting itself to women candidates. The sentiment is even stronger among women with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. This finding implies that manufacturing careers are being overlooked by the well-educated talent pool that is necessary to drive product innovation and competitiveness.

In addition to attracting talented women to the industry, manufacturers are working to retain the women they currently employ. One survey finding, in particular, highlights the challenge manufacturers’ face with this pursuit; the women surveyed were more likely to encourage their sons (70 percent) to pursue a manufacturing career than their daughters (55 percent).  As a female auto executive said, explaining this inconsistency, “Female executives are still not accepted by their male colleagues.”

In fact, most survey participants share this view on gender bias. 51 percent cited that the main driver of women's underrepresentation in manufacturing is the perception of a male-favored culture. There is a sense that historical gender bias has excluded women in manufacturing from core managerial roles, such as production supervisors and operations managers. Unfortunately, these roles hold the key to preparing employees for top leadership roles within the industry, thus creating a vicious cycle. As one participant described it, “Manufacturers must have women to attract women, and must have women in executive roles to retain the women in their companies.”`