Using Empathy, Intention, and Communication: The Tools for Breaking Down Barriers for Women in Manufacturing

Women only account for 43% of the total workforce. Their numbers are even smaller in the manufacturing industry, with women holding around 27% to 29% of manufacturing industry jobs. To make matters worse, this percentage has stayed the same since the mid-1980s, according to the CME WIM Summary Report. Additionally, women in the manufacturing hold very few leadership positions.

Statistic like these not only lead to a lack of inclusivity and diversity in the manufacturing, but also show that women are an untapped market that could help address current issues like low productivity, high turnover, and worker shortages.

So, it’s time to dig deeper: what’s keeping women out of the manufacturing industry? And what can leaders do to fix this gap?

Problem #1: A Lack of Empathy for Female Employees

Women often serve as the primary caretakers for their families, which means they may have to deal with non-work tasks like driving kids to school or taking a child to an after-school event like soccer practice or music lessons. They may also have to address last-minute emergencies, like caring for a sick child. Family and personal duties like these mean that female employees may require more empathy in the workplace. For example, they might need a boss who is understanding about a sudden emergency, or need a flexible schedule that allows them to attend to their family’s needs.

The Solution: To accommodate female employees in your organization, practice empathy. Learn about your team member’s lives outside of work. Check-in, ask questions, and be present. Once you learn about her struggles or responsibilities outside of your organization, work with your employee to find a solution that accommodates her and her needs without hindering productivity.

Problem #2: Structural Setbacks for Women in Leadership

Oftentimes, the issues keeping women out of manufacturing may extend beyond your organization. For example, women tend to shy away from applying for to higher-up positions, even in female-dominated organizations. In fact, women will typically only apply for a role if they meet 60% to 80% of the job criteria. They may also self-reject themselves from a role if they feel like they’re not an expert. Men, on the other hand, tend to approach job applications with a higher level of confidence. They will apply even if they don’t meet all of the criteria.

The Solution: For your organization, fixing this problem might start at the recruiting level. Look at your tactics and come up with ways to encourage more women to apply. As an individual leader, you can also work to build bridges for your female employees by encouraging them to apply to leadership positions, recommending them for opportunities, and working with them to grow the skillset they need to lead and thrive in a higher role.

The share of manufacturing jobs held by women has remained essentially flat, fluctuating between 27 and 29 per cent since the mid-1980s, with no clear trend in any direction, according to the CME WIM Summary Report

Problem #3: Everyday Microaggressions

Even when a manufacturing organization strives toward diversity and inclusion, female employees may experience comments or behavior that make them feel unwelcome in the workplace. For example, they may hear comments about their physical appearance, be unfairly criticized for things outside the scope of their role, or be held to different standards than their male peers. Even when behaviors like these are not done with ill intent, they can still make female employees feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. As a result, they may seek a different role or leave the manufacturing industry entirely.

The Solution: To root out problems like these, be intentional and present as a leader. Make yourself available to all employees and be open to communications about concerns, feedback, and ideas for creating a welcoming workplace for all. It can be easy to feel defensive about a problem in your organization, but approach problems with empathy and understanding to come to an actionable solution.

Learn More on the Mindfulness Manufacturing Podcast

To learn more about breaking down barriers for women in manufacturing, check out the Mindfulness Manufacturing podcast! We’ve had many great guests who spoke about the challenges facing women in manufacturing, including Nicole Provonchee, LaVerne Roberts, and Diana Soares.

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