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What’s the secret to compelling more women to pursue careers in manufacturing?

May 30, 2023
Women are often hailed as the largest untapped talent pool in manufacturing and represent a tremendous human resource as the industry undergoes digital transformation.

By Kathy Mayerhofer, chief sales officer at Xometry

Women may be disproportionately represented in manufacturing, but now we know the one avenue that will greatly increase their chances of pursuing a career in industry: education.

A comprehensive new report by the national trade association Women in Manufacturing, in partnership with Xometry, finds that young women immersed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education are more than twice as likely as young men to choose a career in manufacturing. Thirty-eight percent of women intentionally seeking a career in industry graduated from a STEM program, compared with just 18% of men, according to the 2023 Career Advancement for Manufacturing Report.

Pinpointing education as the initial springboard into a rewarding career in manufacturing is critically important, as manufacturing becomes increasingly high-tech.The nation’s 500,000+ manufacturers—the vast majority of which are small- or mid-sized operations—increasingly embrace high-tech tools and modern practices, a movement that presents excellent entrepreneurial and leadership opportunities for women.

Frankly, the time has come.

Actual representation of women in the manufacturing industry has plateaued at a time when talent—especially highly skilled talent—is in demand.

The US Census Bureau finds that women account for 48% of the workforce, but hold less than one-third of the jobs in the manufacturing sector. Since 2020, only one in four manufacturing leaders are women, a persistent sign that more can be done to help advance women in executive and decision-making roles. Agriculture (28%), electronics (27%) and environmental (27%) areas have the highest percentage of female leadership.

We know, too, that once women establish a career in manufacturing, the vast majority are highly satisfied with their chosen profession. Eighty-two percent of women are likely to recommend a career in manufacturing, up from 75% in 2022, the Women in Manufacturing survey finds. Alongside this is increased optimism, with the number of women who believe they have made significant progress in manufacturing nearly doubling over the last three years, up from 17% in 2020 to more than 30% today. Women in the sector earn on average 16% more than the national median annual income for employed women.

Women are often hailed as the largest untapped talent pool in manufacturing and represent a tremendous human resource as the industry undergoes a massive digital transformation.

So what more can be done to improve their representation at all levels in industry? 

Strengthen education: The US Department of Education recently launched an initiative, Raise the Bar: STEM Excellence for All Students, designed to bolster STEM education nationwide, seeking to promote more robust, high-quality STEM education for all students pre-K and up, and to ensure equitable inclusion of girls, students of color, and those with disabilities.

Change perceptions: American manufacturing is no longer the dirty and dangerous profession of a century ago. Modern facilities are high-tech showcases of innovation. Employers have high demand for everything from robotics and automation specialists to new-business and operations leaders. From schools to mass media, make women aware of the bright new realities of manufacturing, and reimage the sector to equal the 'cool factor' of Silicon Valley.

Lure and retain: While incentivizing women with well-paid jobs steeped in innovation, create company cultures that welcome them. The Career Advancement for Manufacturing Report found that the most desired employee benefits for women are health insurance (79%), flexible work schedules (72%) and a 401(k) match program (66%). Other incentives such as childcare, nursing/pumping rooms, parental leave, and mentorship initiatives can go a long way toward making women feel truly valued.

Finally, increasingly encouraging girls and young women to pursue STEM educations is the impetus needed to deliver the results we all want.