Manufacturing Manufacturing Workforce

The Need For “Rosie The Riveter” In Manufacturing

Rosie the Riveter: she’s probably the most iconic woman in manufacturing.  As the story goes, our young men signed up to fight for the U.S. during World War II. When the men left for war, American women filled the vacant factory jobs.  When World War II ended, our soldiers came back and “reclaimed” their positions. Well, society has drastically changed since World War II when it comes to gender equality in the workplace. And I think most of us would agree it’s for the better.

The manufacturing field has also fundamentally changed. Looking at today’s challenges, it looks like we need Rosie the Riveter to emerge once again… and this time…we need her to stay in manufacturing.

Let’s be clear: manufacturing isn’t 1940’s factory jobs any more. And there’s no reason for manufacturing to be a male-dominated industry. Unfortunately, many people, especially the younger generation, still have this perception of our field. Especially since we have a talent shortage gap in our industry, this is something that must be addressed.

There was a great article recently published in Bloomsberg Businessweek called “International Paper Recruits Women in War for U.S. Talent.” The article dove into the current state of manufacturing when it comes to women in the industry. International Paper CEO, John Faraci, explored the issue and discussed how he wanted his workforce to more accurately reflect the U.S. population. He noticed the disparity – while women comprise 51% of the U.S. population, women make up only 23 percent of his payroll.

The article relayed some interesting stats. While there are notable women in the field such as Mary Barra, Marilyn Hewson and Linda Massman (Leaders of General Motors, Lockheed Martin and Clearwater Paper Corp. respectively.), a report by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress states that “more than two-thirds of the more than 12 million people employed in manufacturing are male.”

Furthermore, “…women’s share of manufacturing employment is the lowest since 1971. They account for 17 percent of board seats, 12 percent of executive officers and six percent of chief executives.” The Manufacturing Institute says that “while approximately 50% of the labor force is female, that number is only about 24% in the manufacturing labor force.”

WHY? We need to do a better job at changing society’s view that manufacturing is just for men.

Here’s what was particularly notable about the Bloomsberg piece – articles and reports about gender in the workplace aren’t new. However, they often tend to focus on “men vs. women” topics and assessing things such as different communication habits of men and women or evaluating discrimination in the workplace. These topics are certainly important and need to be discussed.

However, the Bloomsberg piece doesn’t focus on this. It focuses on the numbers. Here’s a good deduction from the article:

1)     We have a talent gap in manufacturing and we need to recruit more workers.

2)     Today, there is a major gender disparity in manufacturing.

3)     Conclusion: we need to attract more women into the field.

Again, this isn’t about men versus women. This isn’t about replacing men with women in manufacturing. And there’s no suggestion about hiring unqualified women over qualified men just to even out the percentages. This is about recognizing the misconceptions in our field. Everyone is on the same playing field – we’re just not asking half the population to play.

Faraci captured the idea pretty well. He recognizes the issue with his own company – they will need to replace more than 50 percent of their plant operators and mechanics in the next decade. With fewer women currently in the field, he realizes an underutilized resource.

 “It’s a war for talent. If we only compete for half the people that are on the planet, how are we going to get the best? You want to compete for everybody.”

At the end of the day, we need to attract the best and brightest into manufacturing…men AND women. Manufacturing careers include engineers, managers, sales / marketing professionals, human resources workers, electricians and researchers just to name a few. There are opportunities for everyone.

Let’s change the perception of our industry and attract the next generation of manufacturing workers.


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