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Making a Place for Women in Manufacturing

The following blog is from the Commerce Department’s National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST)

Women continue to explore new opportunities and make inroads into industries once almost exclusively male, such as manufacturing. The evidence shows that attitudes both in the industry and among women are changing. The industry is seeing the inherent value of an integrated and inclusive workplace where a diversity of viewpoints and ideas are represented. Manufacturers have come to see that diversity boosts the bottom line, fosters a more dynamic and creative environment, and improves employee morale and retention. This has led to a concerted effort to draw women into the manufacturing sector, beginning early on in their education, by making it clear that anyone can succeed in these careers. As a result, opinions about manufacturing are changing among women, with more and more women seeing a place for themselves in this exciting and challenging industry.

Manufacturing is not the dirty, dangerous and dull profession it used to be. It’s increasingly safe, clean — high-tech — and it supports more than operators on the shop floor. In fact, American manufacturers are facing a looming shortage of 2.4 million workers by 2028 (and potentially nearly half a trillion dollars in lost GDP), so now is the perfect time for women to think about pursuing a career in manufacturing and all the jobs associated with it. That includes women with skills ranging from design and marketing to administration, finance and sales, and cybersecurity. All these skills are needed to make any manufacturing enterprise a success.

Still, while women make up about 47% of the total workforce, they only make up about 30% percent of the 15.8 million people employed in manufacturing industries, and only 1 in 4 manufacturing leaders are women. Census data shows that those who work in manufacturing earn over 21% more than the median income (and women in manufacturing make 16% more than the median for women), though women still make only 72% of the median male salary in the industry, so there is progress to be made both in terms of representation and pay equity. And seeing as manufacturing is becoming increasingly high-tech, manufacturers risk overlooking highly skilled workers by not recruiting women, who earn more than half of the associate, undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded in the United States.

Women have the same potential to contribute to manufacturing as men, and we need them to have that opportunity if manufacturing in this country is to reach its full potential. Their conscious inclusion in the industry will bring a much-needed infusion of new ideas, different perspectives and talent into this vital sector of the American economy as we seek to “build back better.” Manufacturing in America is rooted in the idea of teamwork, where a group of people work together to accomplish a common goal. Today’s manufacturing challenges demand a diverse, multifaceted approach to problem solving, production and leadership. Manufacturing jobs are the kinds of jobs that make America strong, and we’re stronger when we all stand together.