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Moms in Manufacturing – How to Keep and Attract This Talent Pool

“We saw companies get very creative in flexible work arrangements and shifts in reaction to the pandemic, and want to see that continue with regard to working moms," says Allison Grealis, president of Women in Manufacturing.

By: Adrienne Selko, Industry Week

One of the most profound effects of the pandemic is that companies are now looking at their workforce from a much larger -- human -- perspective. Work-life balance became central to determining how employees were able to do their jobs. And for women especially, this became more difficult as balancing the needs of children no longer in school with work was at times impossible. In fact, increased household responsibilities during the pandemic forced many working women to not only scale back on hours but to leave the workforce entirely. According to the National Law Center, more than 2.3 million women have left the labor market since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those working, 25% are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers due to the impact of COVID-19 according to a study done by LeanIn and McKinsey and Company.

There are, however, bright spots in the labor situation as many manufacturing companies have learned how to adjust work schedules. “We saw companies get very creative in flexible work arrangements and shifts, and want to see that continue,” says Allison Grealis, president and founder of Women in Manufacturing (WiM). Ten years ago, Grealis created the organization to provide a community for women in manufacturing as well as offer training, education and networking opportunities. The group offers more than 20 events nationally for its more than 7,300 individual members and 175 corporate members. To continue this legacy, the organization is offering the first-ever Moms in MFG event, which will take place virtually on August 12, 2021.

“The industry needs to take into account that there are many women who graduate college, pursue careers and then step out of the workforce to raise children, but can come back if schedules are flexible to accommodate childrens’ school schedules,” Grealis points out.

And that flexibility is possible considering that the largest percentage of women working in the sector are in sales and administrative roles. By sector, the medical/healthcare industry has the highest number of female employees (54%), whereas the aerospace & defense industry has the lowest representation (24%,), according to a Women in Manufacturing Benchmark Study 2020, that WIM conducted with Thomas.

In addition to retaining women in the sector, more work can be done attracting women as well. Currently, only one in three manufacturing professionals are women and only one in four manufacturing leaders are women.

“Women need to share their success stories in the sector and offer it up as an attractive place to build a career,” says Grealis who hosts a podcast called Hear Her Story to achieve just that. “In a recent podcast an engineer at a large auto manufacturing said that if she had known about the opportunity to solve problems, have an impact on both consumers and the environment, it would have made it easier for her to be attracted to the field.”

WiM offers the following advice on how to both retain and advance women in manufacturing:

  • Provide challenging opportunities

  • Serve as a mentor, sponsor, and advocate

  • Lend your network

  • Deliver feedback to female employees that they need to improve, grow, or take the next step

  • Offer opportunities for training and professional development

  • Connect your female talent with an internal and/or external network or group for advice, support, guidance, and resources.

  • Aim to support workplace flexibility

  • Explore job-sharing, unique scheduling and childcare support to tap into the talent pipeline of working moms

In addition to these tips, the Thomas survey asked women to provide specific advice to women in the sector. Some responses are as follows:

  • “Do not be afraid to speak up and make yourself heard - so often we are talked over due to lack of assertiveness. It's OK to be assertive, you can be assertive and polite.”

  • “Be bold and be clear about what you are striving for in your career. Find a mentor and someone who will champion and advocate for your growth and development. Be a mentor to others - show other women what a career in manufacturing can look like.”

  • “Don't accept the way things have always been. Drive change to make things better for yourself and the women coming into the industry behind you.”

  • “You have to be comfortable in being the first in many cases.”

  • “Don't be afraid to take up space. If you want to be in the manufacturing industry, then you belong in the manufacturing industry.”

  • “Have a voice, sit at the table, know your data. Focus on metrics and numbers, talk with facts vs. emotion.”

  • “Do not be afraid to ask questions to better learn the manufacturing process. Lean on the people who do the physical work - they are the experts, and most are proud to share their knowledge. “

“The progress that has been made needs to continue as the industry is at a critical juncture,” says Grealis. “Companies need to spread the word that they are doing amazing things and using new technology that can attract future workers. Using a variety of social media platforms is a good way to get the message out.”

Grealis points out that the sector has made great strides in the area of sustainability, a particular interest of future workers. That is true of community outreach as well. “Most companies are doing great work in the communities where they are located, but don’t talk about it that much. They need to let potential workers know about these efforts." Grealis is optimistic that more women will join the manufacturing sector. "Manufacturing offers huge opportunities for women," says Grealis. “ It's a place where women can have stable, profitable careers.”


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