The issue of gender equality continues to be a hot topic in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. So how is it that an industry known for its male dominance is showing the way in terms of breaking down gender barriers?
What strikes me most is that more often than not, this isn’t as a result of a directive from the board or quota initiative from HR. The demand for women is being driven by operations and manufacturing directors on the ground who can see the benefits of having a more balanced workforce.
For years, many firms have stuck to the belief that in order to rise up the ranks in a company that makes automotive engines, you first need to know every detail of how to build that engine and when you need to bring in new members of the team, you choose from within the automotive family. Knowledge and progression have started from the shop floor up and as such, companies have built up a small army of male dominated ‘clones’ who have all followed the same path, had the same experience and will most likely hold similar opinions about how and when things should be done.
There is no doubt that this is valuable in some instances but when it comes to problem solving, innovation and continuous improvement, the cracks are starting to show and the need for different viewpoints and approaches is becoming more and more urgent.
It’s in this area of continuous improvement that women are really making their mark in the manufacturing and engineering industries. While women are clearly in demand for key roles – particularly in areas such as food manufacturing – there is still a shortage of female candidates to meet employer demands.
The tide is slowly turning but making manufacturing and engineering roles more accessible to women is a big job. We need to retire outdated images of huge factories for high volume manufacturing and instead focus on the professional and diverse career paths that women can expect within manufacturing.
Furthermore, we need to open up the paths between different industries to improve mobility across the sector. Simply put, if you can improve the efficiencies behind creating a line of sandwiches, you can help improve efficiencies in putting together a car. It’s time we opened up the sector, not just to women but to expertise from other industries. Without this, firms will continue to fight ‘The Clone Wars’, and will struggle to innovate and grow.