Industry 4.0 • August 31, 2018

Women in Manufacturing: Raising the Bar

With so much manpower sent overseas during World War II, women were recruited to keep the nation’s assembly lines running. American women, in unprecedented numbers, entered the workforce to work in the munitions industry and other war-related manufacturing plants. Rosie the Riveter became a national icon as part of a government propaganda campaign.

These days, women comprise almost one third of the manufacturing workforce in the United States. Some work on the plant floor, some in management and a growing number are owners. Yet women remain underrepresented. In the workforce as a whole, they make up just under 50% of the total according to the American Community Survey – almost 20% fewer are employed in manufacturing.  

A career in manufacturing, however, presents clear opportunities. The median salary for women across all industries is $30,348. Female manufacturing industry workers, on the other hand, can expect a median of $35,158. Further, the sector is experiencing a renaissance. The U.S. manufacturing job total has been in steep decline since 1980. But that trend has reversed in recent times. This year, it reached an eight-year high according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women in sales and office occupations within manufacturing operations now dominate with a 51.7% share. As well as secretaries and administrative assistants, this comprises a legion of sales representatives, and customer service representatives. The surge in manufacturing jobs has also opened up positions for women in production, transportation, and material moving occupations, as well as assemblers, fabricators, inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers and other titles.

According to consultant firm Deloitte, women constitute one of the largest pools of untapped talent for U.S. manufacturing. And efforts are underway to boost their numbers dramatically. The Manufacturing Institute is pushing a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production (STEP) initiative for women. As well as mentoring women wishing to follow manufacturing careers, it seeks to inspire the next generation of potential female leaders to enter manufacturing. It also showcases the opportunities the sector can offer.

Positive change is already occurring. According to a recent survey by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 42% of women would encourage a female family member to pursue a career in manufacturing, up from 24% two years ago. Further, 58% have observed positive change in attitude towards female employees in the manufacturing workplace.

With new roles emerging in robotics and additive manufacturing, the old image of manufacturing as a hands-on field of heavy lifting is slowly shifting. That can only help encourage greater numbers of female workers to apply for such positions. Organizations such as Women in Manufacturing, the Society of Woman Engineers and the Manufacturing Institute’s STEP program are actively engaged in inspiring more women to pursue a career in the manufacturing industry. That can only benefit the sector. Research into gender diversity demonstrates that manufacturing benefits in a multitude of ways. These include greater innovation, higher return on investment, and greater profitability.

iBase-t is committed to increasing the number of women represented in the manufacturing sector. At our Excelerate conference in Data Point, California – October 22 – 25, 2018, a keynote on women in manufacturing will be presented. The keynote will be followed by a panel on the same subject. For more information on the show, visit Excelerate 2018.