MFG Advocate …

Getting real about diversity

By  Penny Brown, Public Affairs Director

Malcolm Forbes defined diversity as “the act of thinking independently together.” Businesses especially stand to benefit when they operate in an inclusive environment.

There has been a push lately to improve diversity among workers in manufacturing. That includes both cultural and gender diversity. Why is this so important? It’s not just because “it’s a nice thing to do.” Diversity has real business benefits that can help a company’s overall competitiveness. 

For one, companies that have a workforce inclusive of many voices don’t risk becoming an echo chamber for the same repetitive ideas – therefore making a company more innovative. Companies also cite better customer relations and better talent recruitment as benefits of making themselves more diverse.

The Manufacturing Institute teamed with Deloitte and APICS to generate a study titled “Minding the manufacturing gender gap: How manufacturers can get their fair share of talented women.” The study noted that while women make up nearly half the U.S. workforce (47 percent), they are just 27 percent of manufacturing employees. They are underrepresented in almost every manufacturing sector, and are disproportionately lacking in leadership roles at manufacturing companies relative to other types of companies.

The study noted that in a time when manufacturers are struggling mightily to find skilled workers, women represent a huge pool of untapped talent. Additionally, companies realize improved shareholder value through higher levels of employee recruitment/retention, increased productivity through improved morale, and revenue growth from that aforementioned combination of more innovative products and a more diverse customer base.

So what can be done? The study notes that perception (or misperception) is an important factor. That means engaging with young women and girls to show them the opportunities that exist in manufacturing. The study included a survey of more than 600 women in manufacturing, and 66 percent said they felt standards of performance were higher for women than for men. Seventy-one percent also perceive a gap in pay between women and men, and a lack of opportunities for promotion. The industry needs to take a hard look at these perceptions and how they can be changed.

If you think your business could benefit from improved diversity, consider taking action. The full study is available at The Manufacturing Institute’s website (, along with ideas for how the industry can move forward to making itself more inclusive – and improve business at the same time.

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