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Bridging the Gender Gap in Manufacturing

Women make up just 30% of the manufacturing workforce.

Women
iStock.com/Omar Osman

Workforce shortages continue to grow in nearly every industry, impacting the U.S. economy and gross domestic product. Current estimates are that the manufacturing industry will reach a critical shortage of 2.4 million workers by the year 2028. The numbers point to a clear need for more personnel in the manufacturing industry. 

The U.S. Census Bureau shows that although women make up 47% of the total workforce, they only make up 30% of the manufacturing workforce. Only one in four manufacturing leaders is a woman. The question is – how do we get more women interested in the field?

Presenting the opportunity

Engaging younger women early in their education to explore the potential in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers is one of the ways to close the workforce gender gap.

It is important to introduce young women to opportunities in the manufacturing industry and give them hands-on experience with activities that focus on STEM skills. This provides them with a solid foundation of what the manufacturing industry has to offer. This can include providing them with an opportunity to play, imagine and create while developing those skills. Non-profit organizations, educational institutions and manufacturers can team up to create programs that can accomplish this initiative.

When young women are encouraged to build critical thinking and problem-solving abilities in the classroom, they gain the confidence and interest in STEM and continue building on those skills and entering the high-tech and fast-paced manufacturing industry. Programs that work on problem solving skills can be a catalyst in filling the manufacturing industry with skilled, educated and confident women. 

Offering a vision

Providing role models for young women is also important. Showcasing successful women in manufacturing while having them share their experiences and achievements can inspire other women to pursue similar careers. Mentoring programs that connect experienced women in manufacturing with those who are just starting their careers will provide inspiration and potentially guidance and support for younger women considering the field.

A related way of exposing young women to the world of manufacturing is to offer in person tours of a manufacturing facility. Some manufacturers offer plant tours providing a way for young people can see firsthand what real-life manufacturing entails. Tours led by female manufacturing leaders, who share their stories and background, can serve to encourage other women to find out more. The earlier young women can be exposed to the field of manufacturing, the easier it will be to close that gap between men and women in the industry. 

The time is now

There is no denying the need for more women in the manufacturing industry workforce. Attracting more women into manufacturing requires a multi-faceted approach, involving educational institutions, businesses, mentors and hands on experience.

In a field that has been predominately staffed by men, it is important for young women to see themselves in roles in manufacturing. Gender equity in manufacturing requires starting early and engaging young people. By working toward a more inclusive and diverse manufacturing workforce, the industry can benefit from a broader talent pool and fresh perspectives, leading to innovation and growth.

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Zoraida Velasco is the Executive Vice President of FloridaMakes, part of the MEP National Network. Velasco leads FloridaMakes collaboration with Rosie Riveters and Girl Scouts of Citrus Council on the Rosie Explores Manufacturing program.

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