American Manufacturing Is Missing Something: Half A Million Women
National Manufacturing Day is Friday, Oct. 4, a day to celebrate the industry and inspire the next generation of manufacturers.
Nearly 80% of American manufacturers can’t find the skilled workers they need—part of this gap could be addressed with women. Women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, but hold less than a third of the manufacturing jobs.¹ The logical solution is right in front of us—bring more women into manufacturing.
So, exactly how does hiring more women benefit manufacturers? Research shows that gender diversity improves our ability to innovate, brings us higher return on equity, and increases our profitability.² What more could an industry want?
It’s what we want at Smithfield Foods, a global food company based in Smithfield, Virginia. We are actively looking to diversify our workforce, and this includes recruiting women to fill jobs across 32 states. While our number of female workers is the rise, we recognize there’s more to do and we know that individual companies can’t fill the gender gap alone.
It’s going to take an organized, focused effort. Through the STEP Ahead Initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production), The Manufacturing Institute mentors and recognizes women in this industry while working to fill the gender gap. The Manufacturing Institute is part of The National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 manufacturing companies across every industrial sector and all 50 states.
To quote Carolyn Lee, The Manufacturing Institute’s executive director, “Providing more opportunities for women in manufacturing is more than just the right thing to do—it’s critical to the future of our industry and the economy.”
But why would a woman choose manufacturing? Well, there are the professional opportunities—a long-term career path in a financially competitive arena; the opportunity to make a difference; and a variety of occupational choices³, to name a few—but it goes beyond that.
In my opinion, it extends to the home as well. Those of us in manufacturing careers send a powerful message to the next generation. We all want our children to embrace diversity and see the impact that women in STEP careers have on this important industry. Women play a significant role as mothers, role models, and mentors, and we want to pass on lessons and experiences to help the next generation succeed professionally and personally. A STEP career is a step (no pun intended) in the right direction.
As an executive vice president for Smithfield, I can vouch for the opportunities manufacturing provides women. And I’m not alone. Women are in executive positions across many industries. Still, our numbers in the manufacturing industry remain low—especially when you consider that women helped pioneer manufacturing as inventors, advocates for safety, and job creators.⁴ In fact, manufacturing was the largest employer of women until 1974.⁵ Since its mid-1979 peak, the number of women in manufacturing has declined.
Many factors affect the manufacturing gender gap, to be sure. But regardless of the reasons, we need to actively recruit women who are eligible right now to step into vacant manufacturing jobs and encourage more women to pursue a STEM course of study in college, through trade programs, and along other career paths.
“Made in America” is more than a label on products. It represents America’s economic strength, ingenuity, and exciting future…a future that will be made immensely brighter with a more diverse workforce.
All of us in manufacturing must rise to the challenge of filling our vacant positions with more women. And more women must include manufacturers in their job search.
Together, we’ll keep this great economic engine humming!
Keira is executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance for Smithfield Foods, Inc., and the 2019 Chair of The Women in Manufacturing STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Ahead Awards. She lives in Virginia with her husband, John, and two children Grant (5) and Ainsley (2).
(1) US Census Bureau