STEP Ahead Initiative Addresses Dearth of Women in Manufacturing

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WRITTEN BY: James Wilkey

In the midst of all the reports and editorials debating, debunking, and detailing the skills gap, it can sometimes be easy to overlook simple solutions to complicated problems. STEP Ahead, an initiative dedicated to recognizing excellence and leadership among women in manufacturing, has suggested that the easiest solution to the skilled worker shortage may just be found by employers who are willing to utilize the massive, and massively overlooked, talent pool that women represent.

The Manufacturing Institute, American Production and Inventory Control Society, and Deloitte commissioned a study of women in manufacturing to better understand why the industry isn’t attracting, retaining, and advancing its fair share of qualified female employees. The study, based on survey responses of over 600 women professionals, offers genuine insight into recruiting tactics and career encouragement.

The study found that 90 percent of respondents have over ten years of experience, and nearly half have more than 25. Of all women workers, 65 percent are in managerial or higher roles, with 3/4 having Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees. More than 2/3 of these highly educated women studied general business, engineering, or operations, making them extremely qualified for the kind of leadership and skilled work the industry needs.

The study also exposed the competitive and ambitious goals of the surveyed women, with 82 percent of respondents seeing themselves on a career path toward senior-level management.

Overall, the survey presents a broad snapshot of women across the various facets of the manufacturing industry, from the industrial and consumer product industries, to technology, aerospace, automotive, defense and more. Looking at the numbers then, it’s clear that women represent a large, diverse and talented pool of manufacturing workers. Yet despite their qualifications, women remain vastly underrepresented in the industry.

Women represent nearly half of the total U.S. labor force, but comprise less than a third of the manufacturing work force. Yet, six out of 10 positions in the industry are unfilled because a worker with the appropriate skills for the task can’t be found.

If women only make up a third of the work force, despite clearly being equally capable as men at filling skilled-labor positions, then by not targeting and employing qualified female workers, the industry has only helped to worsen the dreaded skills gap.

Why skip over a good welder based on their sex when the entire industry is scrambling to find ANY welder with specialized skills?

The STEP Ahead initiative is working to address this problem by mentoring and recognizing female presences and accomplishments in the industry, as well as leading research efforts to determine how the industry can better target women for inclusion in the labor force.

The 130 STEP Award recipients were recognized at a gala on March 26 in Washington, D.C. The STEP Awards are part of the larger STEP Ahead initiative, which was launched to examine and promote the role of women in the manufacturing industry through recognition, research and leadership for attracting, advancing and retaining strong female talent.
The 130 STEP Award recipients were recognized at a gala on March 26 in Washington, D.C. The STEP Awards are part of the larger STEP Ahead initiative, which was launched to examine and promote the role of women in the manufacturing industry through recognition, research and leadership for attracting, advancing and retaining strong female talent.

And the benefits of wider hiring practices aren’t only for the hired. Diversity in the workplace is a proven good. A study by Catalyst, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and business, found that Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women officers had a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return than companies with fewer women executives. Consequently, recruiting and retaining women in manufacturing is just smart business.

As part of the STEP Ahead initiative, the Women in Manufacturing STEP Awards honor women leaders and emerging leaders in the manufacturing industry who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their careers. These women represent all levels of the manufacturing industry, from the factory floor to the C-suite.

STEP Ahead inspires next generation female leaders to pursue a career in manufacturing and showcases the amazing opportunities the manufacturing industry can offer. If you’re interested in becoming a welder, or interested in expanding your welding career, we invite you to visit AWS Learning, where you can find virtual conferences, online courses, and other digital tools to help you expand your welding career.

One thought on “STEP Ahead Initiative Addresses Dearth of Women in Manufacturing”

  1. Wow! I have been in the manufacturing industry for over 15 years as a Weldor. I wished this STEP Ahead initiative was available for me. I am constantly showing my leadership and welding skills on the floor. It has always been a struggle throughout my career, however, I love the work that I do. It is the feeling of accomplishment that makes all the struggles fade away.

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