Friday, February 7, 2014

Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Manufacturing: Why It’s Important


There was an interesting article in Bloomberg Businessweek on Tuesday, this week called, “International Paper Recruits Women in War for U.S. Talent.” In the article, International Paper CEO, John Faraci, discussed an important company goal. He wants his payroll to more closely reflect the U.S. population, specifically when it comes to gender. Women accommodate approximately 51% of the population, but only 23% of his organization.

The Current Situation

International Paper isn’t alone. The article goes on to highlight some startling facts about women in the manufacturing field.

Women in manufacturing
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.” Michigan employment is consistent with the national numbers, with recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates revealing that in 2012, women make up 24.5% of the over 618,000 manufacturing workers currently employed.

There are outliers in the field. Mary Barra, Marilyn Hewson, Linda Massman, and Ursula Burns are noted for running General Motors, Lockheed Martin, Clearwater Paper Corp. and Xerox, respectively. However, the numbers are clearly skewed. How did this happen? Why is it like this?

Workforce diversity is a much-discussed topic across numerous sectors and many studies have been conducted to prove its importance. In a Forbes study of large global companies, “85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.” Companies that foster workplace diversity are also said to experience lower turnover rates. (Of course, diversity isn’t just limited to gender.)

Typically, people focus on benefits such as creativity and communication when it comes to diversity. Workers from different backgrounds bring different perspectives. They collectively yield the best solutions.

Moving Forward

Here’s what’s notable about the Bloomberg article though – when articles tackle gender in the workplace, they tend to discuss things in terms of “men vs. women.” Studies and articles will dive into evaluating stereotypical communication habits of men and women, assessing discrimination in the workplace, or how men and women work differently. These topics are all important and worth looking into, but that’s not the point of this article. 

Faraci focuses on the numbers. He recognizes and experiences the talent shortage in our field. His company will be looking to replace more than 50 percent of its plant operators and mechanics in the next decade. And with fewer women currently in the field, he notices an untapped resource of possible workers. As he simply puts it, “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.”

Key Takeaway

It’s not about replacing men with women, and it’s not about hiring an unqualified woman over a qualified man just so we can inflate the numbers. We need to address the talent shortage in our field and we need to attract the next generation of manufacturers. Looking at the numbers, we can see we have a talent gap. Looking at the numbers, we can also see there’s a lack of women in our field. The bottom line: we need to attract the most qualified people, men and women, into U.S. manufacturing careers!

Since 1991, MMTC has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses compete and grow. Through personalized services fitted to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.mmtc.org

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