How to Recruit More Women to Your Workforce

Women are re-entering the workforce in droves, creating an opportunity for talent-starved manufacturers.

By Ethan Karp

By December 2020, there were 2.1 million fewer women in the workforce than before the COVID-19 pandemic began just 10 months earlier.

The pandemic-related job losses hit women at a much higher rate than men, with 1.7 million more female employees losing jobs compared to their male counterparts. Now that things have stabilized, women are re-entering the workforce in record numbers—presenting an opportunity for manufacturers who need talent.

One problem: manufacturing traditionally hasn’t had as much success recruiting and retaining women as men. In fact, as of 2021, women made up just 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce.

We have much to gain by reversing that trend. First and foremost, diversity of thought and experience matters. By creating male-dominated cultures, we leave our companies vulnerable to blind spots in how we make products and serve customers. Second, if we are ever going to close the talent gap—manufacturing is expected to be short 2.1 million workers by 2030—we need all hands on deck.

In other words, it’s long past time for manufacturers to get serious and intentional about recruiting more women.

“There has never been a better or more important time to recruit and retain women in manufacturing careers,” said Allison Grealis, President of the Women in Manufacturing Association (WiM), a national association dedicated to supporting women in manufacturing. “When women thrive in manufacturing, the manufacturing sector as a whole thrives.”

Tips to recruit women to manufacturing jobs

We’ll start with the most obvious and, arguably, important one: equal pay. Examine your internal salary data to get an understanding of how women’s pay compares with men’s. Look at how the benefits you’re offering women stack up, as well. If your examination proves conditions are tilted toward men, don’t just chalk it up to the level of the employees within your organization—your advancement opportunities should be equitable, too. Step one toward recruiting more women is taking an objective eye to these numbers.

Depending on the current state of your culture and staffing efforts, there are several additional steps you can take to attract more women to your company.

Include women and men in your recruitment and advertising content. Every time we make recruitment videos or air ads that are filled only with men, we further the stereotype that jobs in this industry are only for them. Showing women in leadership positions and doing jobs that are typically associated with men (think welding) sends a message that these positions are open to everyone. Our workplaces aren’t the dark, dirty, dangerous places they used to be, but it’s on us to create a new perception of advanced manufacturing.

Amplify your female talent. A potential recruit visiting your website should be able to easily access success stories, social media accounts, and bios of women in your organization. Humanizing your female workers gives female recruits someone they can relate to.

Create a supportive atmosphere. To foster shop floors that offer an environment supportive to women, we must be deliberate about rejecting locker room culture and machismo behavior. That shift in culture begins with leadership setting expectations and then leading by example.

Re-think your physical environment. Manufacturers that have been predominately staffed by men may be unknowingly forcing women out simply by failing to account for their needs. Making sure women have the same standard of facilities, including bathrooms and locker rooms, can go a long way. So can asking women for feedback about their working conditions.

Incentivize recruitment. Once you’ve built up loyalty and become a place that women want to work, make it worth their while to recruit other women to join the team. There is nothing more powerful than a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend or family member. Team members you already trust often bring in the best new hires. HR is powerful, but don’t underestimate the enlistment efforts of the existing personnel on your shop floor.

Girls playing on MAGNET’s STEM playground designed to get students excited about manufacturing. Image are courtesy of MAGNET.

Creating a more equal workforce

Nothing I’ve suggested here is rocket science. Rather, making strides in recruiting women to manufacturing takes stepping out of your status quo and re-examining cultural or recruitment norms we’ve accepted for decades without question. The manufacturers who question everything, look for new ways to showcase opportunities for women, create an atmosphere where women can thrive, and incentivize recruitment are the ones who will find the most success in closing both the gender and talent gaps.

Dr. Ethan Karp MAGNETDr. Ethan Karp

Dr. Ethan Karp is the President and CEO of non-profit consulting group MAGNET, the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network. Prior to joining MAGNET in 2013, he worked with Fortune 500 companies at McKinsey & Co. He received undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and physics from Miami University and a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology from Harvard University.

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