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Cracking the Code: How to Successfully Recruit and Retain Women in the Manufacturing Sector

George Kelly
Oct 14, 2020 10:23:55 AM

October is Manufacturing Month in the US. This year, it comes in the midst of a global pandemic which has upended the labor market in a way that has disproportionally impacted women. Consider the following from our recently published report The Future of Work, By Workers:

  • Women are more likely to be furloughed than men (14% vs. 9%)
  • Women are over-represented in the sectors most impacted by COVID-19:
    • 59% in Accommodation & Food Services
    • 54% in Administrative and Business Services
    • 63% in Arts & Entertainment – Clerical

Women also shared that they are more concerned about going back to work, but also more appreciative of the office to separate work and home duties.

Simultaneous to all of this, Manufacturing is in the midst of incredible forces: the rebalance to greater automation, diversification of supply chains, opportunistic re-shoring, and in some cases, flat-out reinvention. All of this opens up new horizons of opportunity for women – particularly in the fields of advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity. But what are the keys to attracting and retaining women in the Manufacturing sector? As the leader for Manpower Engineering in the US, where a tremendous amount of our work is in Search and long-term contracts, I have had a front-row seat to what I consider the best practices for recruiting and retaining women.

The first step, of course, is to get talent in the door!

Organizations that women want to work for do the following:

  1. They are intentional about attracting women during the recruiting process. This seems obvious, but it is actually where a lot of companies can miss the mark. A good first step is setting up recruiting personas so that you know how to direct your efforts – this really puts you in the mindset of the talent you are pursuing.

  2. They get the basics right. Salary is still the primary consideration and it’s important that your salary offering be in line with the market regardless of the candidate’s salary history. We know about the salary gap between men and women, but I still see organizations who under-pitch salary on the basis of a salary history that may be low compared to market.

  3. They showcase where and how women have been successful. You don’t need the data as much as you need the stories. And, involving women who have been successful in your organization in the interview process can be a powerful way to signal “women are welcome to succeed here.”

  4. They consider potential. This requires going beyond the ‘exact fit’ you need and considering the technical experience, career experience, and potential together. A great example of this is our Academy of Advanced Manufacturing program which takes individuals with military background and trains them to be automation technicians. They may have never been in a manufacturing environment, but their military background has given them skills and experience that are relevant and related.

  5. They have a visible commitment to career advancement and they talk about it. This means clarity around how to move through levels in the same role and/or how to move from role to role in the organization. This also includes a commitment to partnering with talent to upskill on a regular basis – not just through training programs, but also experience and exposure.

Once talent is in the door, retention is key.

The good news is that we know what workers want! Across the globe, 8 in 10 want better balance between work and family and 43% believe this marks the end of the office 9-5. The top concern that people have after safety, is the desire for flexibility to continue and for access to ongoing upskilling and learning and development opportunities. That’s good news for employers looking to crack the code around retention. Here’s what I see as a fast “Top 5” for retaining women workers:

  1. Get the Data. You have to look at succession and workforce plans to ensure they are evaluated for inclusion and disproportionate impact. The basics have to be right: clearly stated goals about how many women, where, and how. If you want to tap this talent pool, you need to be planful and intentional.

  2. Articulate Pathways. Provide a clear picture of a pathway or multiple pathways for career success that connect to the job they are in. (For a good piece on understanding digital era job changes, read Top 10 Job Design Changes in the Digital Era for Manufacturing.)

  3. A partnership attitude to skill building. Not just in things like tuition reimbursement, but learning and development opportunities that link with where the business is going and supporting career moves.

  4. Flexibility: less emphasis on the 8-5 job. More creative options on PTO, holiday, paid leave, etc…an approach that gives the talent more control and an adult to adult approach to managing time.

  5. Share the Future. Everyone knows that jobs are changing and that can open new opportunities. Share how are you planning to prepare talent for exciting new roles in such fields as automation and cybersecurity. As a starting point, check out our research with MxD in The Hiring Guide and you will see multiple pathways that you can use to share where you are headed.

    All in all, the organizations that are best at attracting and recruiting women create a clear sense that they are welcome to succeed here. The even better news? Our research shows that women and men value the same priorities when it comes to retention – that’s another way of saying that if you get this right for the women, everyone will benefit.
LI-Portrait-Of-Female-Engineer (1)

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