Women’s Influence in Manufacturing and Supply Chain

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainIn March, I picked up a study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI) titled “Untapped Resource: How manufacturers can attract, retain, and advance talented women.” The first paragraph hit me hard:

“In the midst of the resurgence of manufacturing in the US, companies are facing a widely acknowledged talent shortfall. Meanwhile, there’s one obvious source of human capital that the manufacturing industry has not fully tapped: women. Across all manufacturing sectors in the US, women are underrepresented in the workforce. While women represent nearly half (46.6 percent) of the total US labor force, they only comprise a quarter (24.8 percent) of the durable goods manufacturing workforce. The proportion of women in leadership roles in manufacturing companies also lags behind other US industries.”

I took a look on LinkedIn to see how many women I could find in vice president positions related to supply chain management. I sent notes out to some asking if they would be willing to talk to APICS about their experiences as female leaders in the field. After conversations with these fascinating women, it was clear we needed to do a feature article on women in supply chain for APICS magazine. However, one question still bothered me: while clearly there are very successful women in supply chain management, why are women still underrepresented in manufacturing?

One reason may be that even with all the diversity initiatives today, we continue to be uncomfortable talking about the lack of parity that exists in the workforce. It doesn’t matter if the subject is gender diversity or cultural diversity, it makes people uneasy. We are afraid to bring it up in conversation. When others do, it’s easier  to suggest that no problem exists, as if there is no longer an issue. Clearly, there is.

There are many perspectives from which to discuss this issue. Yes, one is political, and if the issue was strictly such, it may not be an appropriate conversation for a professional association. But, as the Deloitte/MI study points out, an important workforce development conversation must be had.

Drawing women to manufacturing

Working harder to attract and retain women in manufacturing is beneficial to everyone in the manufacturing industry. An increased number of women in manufacturing, according to the Deloitte/MI study, can

  1.  Address the skills gap issue in manufacturing.
  2. Improve the competitiveness of the industry by gaining women’s insights as consumers and influencers.
  3. Improve profitability. According to Catalyst research, Fortune 500 companies with a high percentage of women officers have a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return than companies with fewer female executives.

To address this issue, employers, professional associations, and educators need to participate in meaningful initiatives. Companies that want to attract and retain women must create more flexible work environments and amp up support for continuing professional development—benefits that attract talented men as well. And the manufacturing industry as a whole must do a better job of targeting and presenting itself to women. For this to happen, we have to be able to have the conversation. What can we do together to increase the number of women in manufacturing?