At NJMEP’s annual Manufacturing Day, held this year on October 4, 2019, there was a full house at the Women in Manufacturing (WIM) breakout session.

The conversation began as the women, many who were owners, CEOs, presidents and in other leadership positions in their organizations, made the business case that the presence of women in a manufacturing business is guaranteed to have a positive impact on the bottom line.

In fact, diversity in any organization – including manufacturing companies - contributes to competitiveness and innovation. Studies of Fortune 500 companies with higher percentages of women show that they consistently enjoy the advantages of greater profitability than those with fewer women executives. One study that was quoted indicated that when a company goes from having no female leaders to adding just 30% female leaders to the team experienced an associated increase of 15% in net profitability.  The statistics reinforced the concept that was at the top of the list of issues: that when women are among the influencers in a company, they offer new approaches to strategic thinking, contribute to group meetings with fresh perspectives, and help the company identify innovative, competitive solutions more consistently and quickly.

It was agreed that women are necessary and impactful in every business setting, but nonetheless are scarce in the manufacturing sector. Even though they comprise over 47% of the general workforce, they represent only 29% (less than one third) of the employees in manufacturing. And these numbers have remained stubbornly unchanged over the years.

But the dilemma is how can women change the scenario?

It was agreed that women need to be more outspoken, sharing their ideas and taking ownership of initiatives and assuming responsibilities in the company – without waiting to be asked.

This a challenge because it is difficult for women to aspire for leadership positions when they do not have many high profile, successful female role models to motivate them. They often come up against unconscious bias as well, with male colleagues who are not aware of the difference in the way that women are hired, trained, treated, advanced and paid in the manufacturing industry versus their male counterparts.

With that in mind, it was universally agreed that the first thing that must change is the culture of the companies.

The tone starts at the top and trickles down throughout the entire company. The senior leaders must set an example and show strong, sincere support for women and encourage their advancement.  This may include sensitivity training along with clear and transparent communication as well as the establishment of diversity and inclusion programs.  In addition, the companies must address the key issues that are essential for their women employees – including a focus on flexibility, equal standards for measuring behavior, competitive advancement opportunities, mentors, coaches and sponsors, and a reduction in the pay gap.

During the one-hour session many of the women shared their own personal journeys – some of whom worked for decades in profoundly challenging situations. One highlight of the morning included the story of a young woman who, despite very limited English language skills, worked her way from an entry level machinist position up the corporate ladder to a leadership role as a supervisor. Her journey exemplified the lesson that passion and determination are still critical traits for us all. And when she was asked what advice she could share with the group, she simply said, “Believe in yourself.” Her real life story and essential advice were one of the best lessons of the morning.

The women at this roundtable all agreed that they need to find a way to re-shape the company’s attitudes and work to create environments that nurture and support women who have selected manufacturing for their careers. And ultimately, they also made the point that women must help each other.

Thank you to NJMEP for presenting a unique session for women in manufacturing every year. This is always one of the most popular programs of the day!