Skip to main content

Are Women the Answer to Manufacturing’s Workforce Shortfall?

Industry must invest in changes to benefit from a diverse workforce

Long before the pandemic, manufacturing faced a shortage of skilled workers. During the pandemic, men and women both lost employment, but women have been disproportionately affected, dropping out of the workforce at a rate 20 percent higher than men.

In January, women's participation in the labor force hit a 33-year low, according to the National Women's Law Center's analysis of labor reports. This is in large part the result of women predominantly being responsible for managing households, childcare, and eldercare. 

As the U.S. emerges from the pandemic, women can be the answer to filling many hard-to-fill high-tech manufacturing jobs. With increased efforts at reshoring, there will be increased manufacturing openings in an industry often plagued by high turnover, putting more pressure on the labor market, so American industrial companies could significantly benefit from greater workforce diversity.

As the manufacturing workplace increasingly involves automation, AI, robotics, and other innovative technology, finding skilled workers continues to become more challenging. In 2016, while women made up about 47 percent of the overall workforce, they only accounted for 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce. This represents a significant untapped market for manufacturing recruiters. For young women, manufacturing can offer a career path with solid compensation and benefits, and a chance to advance a career with enhanced skills and leadership ability. Research repeatedly demonstrates that gender- and racially-diverse workforces yield greater profitability for companies. 

To attract women to the workplace, employers must remove barriers and embrace realities learned from the pandemic. Workplace solutions that offer flexibility and assistance in managing the integration of work and life will be important to attract a larger, more diverse workforce. Benefits that include flexible scheduling, child care assistance, and mental health and wellness resources for families will be important in the post-pandemic workplace. Initiatives, policies, and practices that support inclusion and combat harassment will encourage more women to pursue careers in industry. 

These policies may make your workplace more attractive for women, but they are policies that are good for all workers, and may help build a diverse and supportive workplace that reduces overall turnover. Equal pay, ongoing training, and opportunities for mentorship and promotion, would make manufacturing jobs a win-win-win for women returning to work, industry employers, and global economic recovery.

The United Nations “Women Rise for All” global advocacy effort underscores the importance of women to global recovery. As UN SDG Advocate, Alaa Murabit, stated “We need to ensure that all of us are afforded the same opportunity to thrive, succeed and prosper. Without championing women, it will be impossible to fully recover from COVID-19 and from the very clear economic fallout.”

Structuring a pathway for women to successfully re-enter the workforce in manufacturing could provide one solution to do just that.

— Sharon Van Auken, CITEC Business Advisor