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New Study on Women in Manufacturing Reveals Impact on Supply Chains

This study is an important step in understanding how we as an industry can make supply chain careers more attractive to women.

(Supply Chain Management Review (SCMR) – Patrick Burnson: 4-25-17)    The Manufacturing Institute, Deloitte and APICS recently released a study, Women in Manufacturing: Stepping up to make an impact that matters.

The joint study is the result of more than 600 survey responses from women professionals in the manufacturing industry, along with nearly 20 manufacturing executive interviews. The insights point to how companies can effectively recruit, retain and advance talented women in manufacturing, and illustrates ways that women in manufacturing are making an impact in the industry through programs like STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Ahead.

The supply chain implications are clear, say industry experts.

“This study is an important step in understanding how we as an industry can make supply chain careers more attractive to women,” said Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE, APICS chief executive officer. “At APICS, we are dedicated to workforce development initiatives that address the supply chain talent gap. Ensuring more women join the manufacturing workforce and find a path to success is a key part of the solution.  We are proud that STEP Ahead honorees include 12 APICS members.”

This study confirms 1) the importance of increasing the number of women in the manufacturing workforce and 2) that many manufacturers are missing a critical talent pool which could aid in closing the skills gap. Some key highlights from the study include:

  • Nearly three fourths (70 percent) of women indicate they would stay in manufacturing if they were to start their career today;
  • Some of the most important employment characteristics for women in manufacturing include opportunities for challenging and interesting assignments, attractive pay, and work-life balance; and
  • The most impactful programs to help retain women in manufacturing include formal and informal mentorship programs, flexible work practices, and increasing the visibility of key leaders who serve role models.

The study also examines the positive impact of STEP Ahead, reporting insights from former honorees and emerging leaders who indicate STEP Ahead has helped raise the visibility of opportunities for women in the industry, manufacturing opportunities in the community, and opportunities for women within their companies. The STEP Ahead honorees and emerging leaders have reached an estimated 300,000 individuals – from peers in the industry to school age children – as a result of their active industry engagement:

  • Nearly 90 percent indicate they are engaged with individuals to raise the visibility of the industry;
  • 92 percent are engaged in efforts in the development of women; and
  • 70 percent are engaged with K-12 system to encourage young girls and boys to consider careers in manufacturing.

“Our research estimates that the cumulative manufacturing skills gap — or the positions that likely won’t be filled due to a lack of skilled workers — will grow to two million between 2015 and 2025,” said Craig Giffi, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. automotive practice leader.

While there has been an overall positive change in the industry’s attitude toward women employees, women still make up 29 percent of the U.S. manufacturing workforce, while they make up approximately half of the total U.S. labor force.

Researchers told SCMR in an interview that they were pleased to see that women are noticing an increased effort by universities, businesses, and the industry to promote a positive attitude toward women in manufacturing and supply chain.

The results show that there has been positive change in the industry and that there is more of a focus on ensuring more women join the manufacturing workforce and find a path to success:

  • 58 percent of women surveyed noted a positive change in the manufacturing industry’s attitude towards female professionals over the last five years.
  • 29 percent of women (up from 12 percent in 2015) think the school system actively or somewhat encourages female students to pursue a career in the manufacturing industry
  • 42 percent (up from 24 percent in 2015) would encourage their daughter or female family member to pursue a career in their industry.


SCMR also learned in an interview that despite progress, there is still room for improvement in the manufacturing industry’s efforts to attract, retain, and develop its female workforce.

“The report identified pain points that still need to be addressed – underrepresentation of women in leadership roles, consistent performance standards for both men and women, and a work/life balance that allows women to meet family/personal commitments without impairing their career,” said researchers.

Researchers told SCMR that future reports would “dive deeper into these pain points,” what smart companies are doing to address them, and how the industry can improve retention of women in manufacturing jobs.

(Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites … and a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management.)

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