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The drive for gender equality in manufacturing

gender equality

August 5, 2019

Gender equality in the workplace has finally reached the top of the corporate agenda, and not a moment too soon. However, while many of the issues behind the gender pay gap and under-representation of women in senior roles have been identified, we are a considerable way off solving many of them. For gender equality in manufacturing in particular, we have a long road ahead to attract and retain more women, which could take a generation or more to bear significant fruit. Is there anything we can do to speed up the process? 

Recruitment strategy 

Some sectors – such as the ‘big four’ accountancy firms – have announced that they will reject male-only candidate shortlists as one way to address gender inequality quickly. In a business such as PwC, where women make up 48% of the workforce, it’s easy to see the appeal of this recruitment strategy, but in manufacturing the proportion is as low as 24%, making it arguably unrealistic at this stage.

The EEF has some very interesting perspectives from female executives on its website, as part of its Women in Manufacturing campaign. In one piece, the managing director of Kohler Mira, Liz Hazeldene, describes how specialist qualifications or a traditional background in manufacturing aren’t required for you to succeed in the sector.

She asserts, “The further up you go, it becomes more about emotional intelligence and less about an engineering degree. Think about your unique set of skills and attributes that could be a fit with a position rather than just thinking ‘this industry’s not for me’.”

In order to promote gender equality in manufacturing, we need to look beyond the obvious talent pools when recruiting.  As the EEF highlights, ours is a “thriving, exciting and rewarding industry. It offers above average pay, opportunities to quickly climb the ranks, [and] the chance to work overseas.” It’s incumbent on us to reach out to talented women of all backgrounds and show them the way into such a career, rather than closing the door if they lack direct experience. 

Training and development 

You may be surprised to hear a recruitment specialist say this, but retaining good people in your business is vital. From a gender equality perspective, ensuring that talented women stay and develop with you can have enormous benefits, from driving growth to acting as a beacon to attract similar candidates. For example, much of the success of Lean relies upon investment in people development, mentoring, coaching and training excellent leaders at all levels of your organisation, and by offering women such opportunities you’ll quickly realise the dual benefits to employer and employee. 

Apprenticeships and returnships 

Offering a way in or a way back to manufacturing can be via many different routes, but formal schemes such as apprenticeships and returnships (where people – particularly women – who may have taken a career break are given a path back into the workplace) are increasingly popular. Indeed, the Government is itself driving forward such schemes, specifically with the aim of boosting skills and closing the gender pay gap. Investing in dedicated programmes to attract and retain women takes a certain amount of planning, but with help and (potentially) funding available from the public purse, it’s an option worth considering by any manufacturing business. 

Ride the publicity wave 

With gender equality never far from the headlines at the moment, there’s never been a better time to capitalise on the publicity. Women school leavers and undergraduates are increasingly aware of the opportunities presented to them as businesses battle to be more female-friendly (either willingly or by the enforcement of legislation). But with many organisations struggling to keep up with the pace of change, any company which can move fast to forge links with the education sector will be at an advantage.

Outreach programmes between manufacturers and local schools, colleges and universities will be welcomed by educational institutions desperate to promote STEM among female students and can deliver numerous benefits to your organisation. Open days, work experience schemes, taster sessions and careers advice are just some of the ways you can generate job candidates of the future, not to mention the welcome glow of good publicity. 

Seize the initiative

The slow journey towards gender equality in manufacturing could be said to have started with the Ford machinists in Dagenham who went on strike over unfair pay in 1968. Fifty years on, and after the 1970 Equal Pay Act came about as a direct result of their hard-fought campaign, this is another moment of opportunity.

Manufacturers can either be dragged kicking and screaming by legislators (again) into a new era of full and proper gender equality, or we can seize the initiative and be at the forefront of driving female empowerment for the benefit of all. The talented women are out there and it’s up to us to put out the welcome mat.

Please feel free to comment with your own experience or advice, and if you need help with recruitment, get in touch.

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