Leveraging the Power of Diversity: Women’s Vital Role in Rescuing Manufacturing

Leveraging the Power of Diversity: Women’s Vital Role in Rescuing Manufacturing

Helen Yu 15/02/2023
Leveraging the Power of Diversity: Women’s Vital Role in Rescuing Manufacturing

The future of manufacturing is not just about technology.

It’s also about increasing the amount of diversity in the workforce. Despite women making up 47% of the total labor market, they only represent 29% of people working in manufacturing (US Bureau of Labor and Statistics).  

The current labor shortage in manufacturing presents an opportunity to tap into this untapped resource and position the US as a manufacturing powerhouse. However, there is a disconnect between factory workers and company leaders and a lack of representation of women in leadership roles. Bridging this disconnect and promoting diversity in the workplace starts with small actions and the support of both men and women in the industry.  Let’s explore how women can play a crucial role in rescuing manufacturing. 

Ande Hazard is the Vice President of Manufacturing Solutions at AT&T. She oversees 220 sales professionals delivering the full range of AT&T products to more than 500 enterprise clients, representing $3 billion in annualized revenue. I was in the audience when Ande spoke at an AT&T sponsored women’s leadership luncheon at 2022 HANNOVER MESSE USA, co-located with the IMTS - International Manufacturing Technology Show

Her words continue to inspire me. Ande highlights the importance of a diverse workforce in the smart factory of the future.  She discussed the untapped potential of women in the manufacturing industry.

The Labor Shortage Bottleneck

If you haven’t heard, there’s a labor shortage in manufacturing. 

A conversation I had with a colleague, a CFO at a manufacturing company, illustrates the age-old problem of doing the same things while expecting different results. 

His company offered a $3,000 bonus if you came to work every weekday for three months from eight to five. This is how much the company paid out: zero. My jaw dropped. This story tells us: we cannot manage the way we used to manage. 

So, how do we solve the problem with fresh ideas? What if we could:

  • Partner with HR on a campaign to bring more women into the talent pipeline

  • Create an inclusive work environment with more gender-diverse teams

  • Show more women in our brand communications

  • Create a leadership path for women in manufacturing

According to the 2021 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Manufacturing Talent study, two facts rise to the top. They support Ande’s point that we need to take action to fix the talent shortage problem while also acknowledging women are an untapped resource for positioning the U.S. as a manufacturing powerhouse. 

The first fact is that U.S. manufacturing is expected to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. The second is that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is an imperative for manufacturers.

In a past blog entitled The 4 C’s: Strategies for Managing Employee Shortages in Manufacturing and Transportation, I cite culture as being a major driver in filling the talent pipeline. Culture encompasses many different elements, including building a culture of diversity. 

This is where we start, but it is by no means where we stop.

Diversity from the C-Suite to the Boardroom

There is much more to the story of women in manufacturing. From McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report, this line reflects the state of women in leadership: “Now, companies are struggling to hold onto the relatively few women leaders they have. And all of these dynamics are even more pronounced for women of color.” It goes on to say that, “Women leaders are just as ambitious as men, but at many companies, they face headwinds that signal it will be harder to advance.” 

Some refer to this as the “broken rung” on the corporate ladder. But that’s only looking at it from ground level. You must also consider where the ladder leads to: the boardroom. 

The boardroom is where decisions are made and precedent set. According to Moody’s Investors Service, 29% of corporate board seats at North American and European companies were held by women in 2022. A higher proportion of women on boards is correlated with higher credit ratings. However, by now, you’ve probably heard the most infamous and creative statistic about this: In Equileap’s study of the S&P 500, there were more Chair males named John than there were female Chairs (they made up 4% in case you were wondering).

Statistics only give us one viewpoint. The other is real life. I’ve been in the C-suite, and I still felt defeated at times. There hasn’t been enough sponsorship to move women from the C-suite to the boardroom. Many companies keep asking the same women to sit on their boards. If these opportunities were shared with other very capable female leaders, imagine the potential outcomes.

The way to break through is to not wait for an invitation. Instead, reach out to people, attend events, build relationships, gradually expand your network, and never stop seeking a seat at the table.

Bridging the Disconnect

Historically, manufacturing has been a male-dominated field. We’ve seen some progress, but it hasn’t been enough. One reason, I believe, is because there’s a disconnect between people who work in the factory, creating the products and services, and the people leading the organization. 

 Encouraging more women in manufacturing starts with small actions: people looking out for one other, women supporting other women, and male allies advocating for women, too. 

Many of the people who supported me along my career were men who firmly believed in diversity. If we only rely on women to advance women, then it will take another century to get results.

Driving diversity is everyone’s responsibility. Diversity impacts a company's bottom-line, innovation and product quality. There are many proof points on this, but one revealing statistic originally from the Peterson Institute, and cited in the Women in Manufacturing Report by Deloitte, the Manufacturing Institute and APICS, states: “an increase from no females in corporate leadership to 30% representation is associated with a 15% increase in net profitability.” 

I don’t know a CEO who wouldn’t like those returns. 

Advice to my 23-Year-Old Self – and You

International Women’s Day is March 8, 2023. Embracing equity is the theme. This is a call to action for all of us to support and encourage women to pursue careers in the manufacturing industry.

If you know a woman who is interested in manufacturing, take the time to talk to her about her interests and help to generate a conversation around attracting more women to the field. 

Looking back, I realize I would have enjoyed a career in manufacturing. I'm always fascinated by walking the plant floor and seeing how things come together to produce a widget used by people around the world. Here’s the advice I would give my 23-year-old self. Perhaps you can find something in it helpful to you or others you know: 

Embrace the chance to open doors in a male-dominated industry and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Explore these opportunities to learn how to make things - in addition to the technology that supports it. Go into the field and see how things are being made from start to finish and learn the entire process. Use your knowledge to innovate and create products and services you are passionate about.

Technology is driving remarkable change. Companies like AT&T Business are helping manufacturers implement digital transformation today, to innovate for tomorrow with 5G, IoT solutions, and greater connectivity. Technology, however, is just one part of the story. True innovation requires a diverse workforce, with women playing a vital role as makers and leaders.  This isn’t about replicating the past but rather, shaping the future of modern manufacturing.

Jay Timmons, president and CEO, National Association of Manufacturers, said this in the Women in Manufacturing report: “Today’s manufacturing employees are building and designing the future, and women in manufacturing serve as ambassadors to move the industry forward.”

Let’s support and empower women to join the manufacturing industry, not only to move it forward but also to play a key role in leading the charge in shaping a bright and innovative future.

This article was sponsored by AT&T Business, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent BBN Times and AT&T Business’s positions or strategies.

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Helen Yu

Innovation Expert

Helen Yu is a Global Top 20 thought leader in 10 categories, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cybersecurity, internet of things and marketing. She is a Board Director, Fortune 500 Advisor, WSJ Best Selling & Award Winning Author, Keynote Speaker, Top 50 Women in Tech and IBM Top 10 Global Thought Leader in Digital Transformation. She is also the Founder & CEO of Tigon Advisory, a CXO-as-a-Service growth accelerator, which multiplies growth opportunities from startups to large enterprises. Helen collaborated with prestigious organizations including Intel, VMware, Salesforce, Cisco, Qualcomm, AT&T, IBM, Microsoft and Vodafone. She is also the author of Ascend Your Start-Up.

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