Dismantling the Barriers to Women in Manufacturing

Manufacturing contributes to almost 10% of Canada's GDP and it's declining. According to the Report of Canada's Economic Strategy Tables for Advanced Manufacturing, Canada has several barriers to growing this sector:

  • Global competition is increasing
  • Skilled and digitally skilled labour are in short supply
  • Technology adoption is uneven and productivity is lagging
  • Fluctuating commodity prices and dollar create variable costs
  • Growth is slow in key export markets

It is predicted that 60,000 advanced manufacturing jobs will be needed over the next 10 years. 24,000 of these jobs are targeted for women in manufacturing in the next three years. However, women are under utilized and under-represented in Canada's manufacturing sector. Despite contributing to 48% of Canada's total workforce, only 29% of women contribute to Canada's manufacturing industry. How can we improve these numbers?

Automation Magazine recently hosted the Women in Manufacturing Summit tackling the issues of women seeking a career in manufacturing. The goal of the summit brought together women and manufacturing influencers from across Canada to discuss opportunities in manufacturing. The summit featured success stories and strategies that encourage women to overcome entry barriers. The summit contributed to creating a positive perception of manufacturing and incentives for women to pursue a career in manufacturing.

A panel entitled "Advancing Women in Manufacturing: New Approaches to Leadership", featured well-respected business leaders, Irene Sterian, President & CEO, REMAP Network, Diane Reko, Chief Executive Officer, Reko International Peng-Sang Cau, Vice-President Life Sciences, Emerging Markets & Symphoni, ATS Automation Kristle Bautista, Author, Course Director and HR Advisory, Magellan Aerospace Limited and Moderator Nour Hachem-Fawaz, President, Build a Dream [pictured below]. The panel discussed how traditional approaches to cultivating leadership in manufacturing must evolve to accommodate the strengths women bring to the decision-making table.

These leaders shared personal success stories in manufacturing, how they overcame career hurdles and their vision for the future of women in manufacturing. They discussed strategies to recruit more women into the field that will help close the gender gap in manufacturing. The panel offered three opportunities to overcome barriers to entry: 

1.   Women have the skills to contribute to the future of manufacturing 

When you think of manufacturing jobs, images of assembly lines and heavy machinery might come to mind. However, these roles – typically associated with men – won't be the most in-demand skills for manufacturing's future.

Thanks to the ongoing digitization of manufacturing, higher value roles will require skills such as digital literacy, data interpretation, creative problem solving, fostering inclusive, diverse cultures, handling increasing complexity, and effective communication. 

The skills projected by the World Manufacturing Forum align the abilities women inherently excel. It makes economic sense to hire women to fill roles that require specialized skills to stay competitive over the long term.

The WMF's Top Ten Skills for the Future of Manufacturing

2.   Modernize recruitment strategies to attract more women

In the past two decades, Canada’s manufacturing industry has undergone a fundamental shift in workforce characteristics. The percentage of employees 55-years or older in manufacturing increased to 25.5% by 2019. Simultaneously, the percentage of persons 16-24 years employed in manufacturing has 8.3% during the same period. indicating that the industry is not attracting young professionals at a rate that can replenish future retirees. We can expect this trend to accelerate in the years to come, which will create a considerable labour shortfall for Canadian manufacturing.

Data also indicates that manufacturing struggles fill these positions. When you put these statistics together, it suggests that the labour shortage is further stressed by not knowing how to attract half of the population because their recruitment methods are outdated. "When you're not engaging with the best and brightest from half of the talent pool," says Ms. Sterian. "You're missing out on moving your business forward. Manufacturing recruiters need to better understand and empathize with the needs of professional women to attract them.

One example is work-life balance -essential to women staying in the workforce. Companies that advocate for women who multitask both at work and at home with commitments to family, childcare challenges, and aging parents will attract the most talented women, thereby better positioning themselves in the marketplace.

3.   Diversity creates a stronger workforce and more successful companies

As the current workforce ages out, manufacturing companies are losing highly skilled workers faster than ever before, pushing the focus to hire younger talent. However, younger employees, including men under 40, will have a higher expectation of gender diversity at all levels within companies, including the boardroom. In this day and age, companies that aren't gender diverse won't attract the best talent.

Companies can get ahead by putting forth a diversity strategy – not just a statement – that demonstrates their commitment to change. The plan should include being transparent about what needs to change, how they will change it, and when changes will occur. Women should be involved in the process to provide the required tools and resources that can implement change and engage enablers who are on board with the plan.

As the manufacturing industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we see opportunities to rebuild this sector to be more resilient with more gender-diverse hiring. Hiring women to fill roles that come from the tech evolution of manufacturing will help placeCanada at the forefront of the global marketplace.  

The time is now for women across Canada to answer the call and start their journey to build Canada’s future manufacturing landscape. Together, we can pioneer the transformation of this industry for the betterment of our country as a whole, and enjoy an exciting career while doing it.

To listen to the full panel discussion visit, https://www.automationmag.com/ve-agenda/advancing-women-in-manufacturing-new-approaches-to-leadership/

To learn more about the Women inManufacturing Summit visit, https://www.womenincanadianmanufacturing.com/change-is-happening-5-tips-from-the-women-in-manufacturing-virtual-summit/