Updated: May 18
By Samantha Mooney
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It is and will continue to be a journey, but we are starting it
Through the acquisition & merging of two strong, innovative contract manufacturers, it has been an opportunity for our company to think about what we want the future to be. As we grow, something that we are contending with is, how do we recruit and retain the best and brightest?
With 60,000+ fabrication shops out there in the US, we will differentiate ourselves through innovation, collaboration and differentiation. That means thinking about how we can incorporate broad ideas and an environment where they can be heard and explored.
However, one of the first impressions after joining almost a year ago was that the women were in the front office, not on the factory floor.
It’s not surprising based on US Data
The largest areas that women are hired into manufacturing are sales and office work in the US, according to the US Census. While the areas with the most opportunity are on the factory floors in “production, transportation and material handling” along with “natural resources, construction and maintenance.”
And when you look at the broad industry, women have room to grow
Almost 50% of the US workforce is women
Only 29% of manufacturing is made up of women
Women’s growth in the workplace stagnated and reversed around 2000, and especially in manufacturing as seen below, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Interestingly enough, when women receive manufacturing jobs, they have higher earnings than men – but the problem is getting those good paying jobs. Median earnings for female manufacturing industry workers was higher ($35,158) than that of females in all industries ($30,348), yet lower than that for male manufacturing workers ($48,849), according to the US Census, as of 2016.
Why would women not be getting more jobs, if they can make more in manufacturing than other industries?
Experiences of a successful female at Valence IndustrialTM (Valence)
It’s not just about the statistics of who is entering manufacturing. How does it “feel” to be on the manufacturing floor?
“Since I’ve been working in manufacturing for 35 years, it has changed,” according to Jamey Fogt, Shipping & Receiving Manager at Valence Industrial. “I see more women in management positions now. But I don’t think they are respected in the decisions they make. They are still questioned more with decisions.”
She went on to say, “In my last role at another company, I was second guessed. I come to the same conclusion; I just don’t do it the same way they do. I’m respected here. Men come to me for advice. I’ve been known as the “mom” on the floor and get quite a bit of respect.”
It’s not only about understanding the problem as a company, but our goal at Valence is also understanding industry-wide recommendations. And over time, supporting policies and behaviors that make top female “market makers” want to work for us, and be here for the long-term.
Why should we care?
44% of US manufactures are a small business. Does it matter if small businesses are hiring women? For Valence, we believe that our collective intelligence is much stronger together than individually.
There is a large body of research that says the same.
“Without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas... This costs their companies crucial market opportunities, because inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets,” according to a recent Harvard Business Review article.
Jamey shared an experience at a prior employer where she learned the lesson that you need to be open minded, listen to others’ insights and stick up for yourself.
“I went back to school to get my diploma and business degree later in my career. An HR Manager said it didn’t mean anything when we were speaking in his office. I went to my manager to discuss what had happened. After my manager spoke with the HR manager, he apologized and said that isn’t the way it should have come out. I said well that’s the way it came out. I don’t think he would have said that to a man,” Jamey shared. She went on to say, “The lesson was to not let disparagingly comments go. That brings a person down – not just as a woman but would bring anybody’s self-esteem down. I fought for where I’ve gotten and I’m proud of where I am."
If Jamey had not felt supported by her direct manager, she may have let that comment stop her from driving innovation and growth for her company and ours.
When it comes to women at Valence
We are beginning the process of outreach with local training and community development organizations to begin the conversation.
I feel deep meaning in working in manufacturing, personally. I want to make sure that other women feel it too.
It is and will continue to be a journey for our company, but we are starting it. That’s important.
“Overall, 65 percent of survey respondents indicate their company does not have an active recruitment program to attract potential female employees, and an even higher percentage holds true for automotive, industrial products, transportation and consumer products (figure 1),” according to a Deloitte survey of 600 female professionals predominately in manufacturing.
Based on that information, we are starting to build relationships with local training schools. It’s not just about women coming to us, we need to do outreach and let them know the types of benefits and growth we can offer them.
2. Role-modeling & community outreach
As we think about women in manufacturing, are we giving them the environment and benefits to ensure that they see it as meaningful work?
When Jamey was asked what advice she has for other women at Valence, she said:
“Women need to be able to stand their ground, know their facts and don’t back down. You can’t back down.
With me being in a shipping and handling role, if someone has a disagreement with the process, I need to stand my ground. Sometimes, men would disagree because I had a more efficient way of doing things. It was a lack of comfort with changing the process, not as much gender based.
Because I know that I’m right, I’ve been in logistics positions for 30+ years with two different companies. The last company I worked at, I was a shipping and handling specialist, handled inventory management, accounts payable and moved around to different specialties.”
Jamey isn’t alone in her experiences. The top concern for women surveyed by Deloitte, included:
“Poor working relationships: The onus is on employers to become a “simply irresistible organization” which includes positive working relationships and can be enhanced by management working towards a positive work environment, characterized as flexible, humanistic, recognition focused, inclusive and diverse.
Work-life balance: Only one in three survey respondents think their industry allows people to meet family commitments without impairing their career.”
Despite research that indicates that providing paid parental leave following the birth of a child provides significant labor market and health benefits, the US is the only industrialized country without a national policy providing mothers with rights to paid leave following the birth of a child, according to the Brooking Institute.
For women of childbearing age, many looking at statistics may consider the maternity leave and PTO policies as a barrier for some. Especially, as you consider a woman walking the factory floor, carrying heavy equipment or sitting in hard chairs, it doesn’t always sound palpable for many women after a major hospital event like childbirth.
One of the first things that Valence did after the acquisition, was to add a six-week paid maternity leave policy in addition to the existing paid time off plan.
While it is just the beginning, there is more that we can do and will do.