Women in Manufacturing Leadership Roles

Manufacturing is seeing a major rebound right now. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the sector added 29,000 new jobs in June 2022 and hit its February 2020 levels of employment. As manufacturing resets and revives itself, one major aspect to keep an eye on in the industry is the rising wave of women in leadership roles.


Women and Manufacturing By the Numbers

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, women only make up about 30% of the manufacturing workforce – a significantly lower proportion than their near-even 47% share of the overall workforce across all industries – and only one in four manufacturing leaders is a woman. The average salary for women in manufacturing is only 72% of the average male salary in the field, although women in manufacturing do make 16% more than the median for women overall.

What do these seemingly simple numbers show us? They’re an indicator of two things: an inequality – and an opportunity. It’s undeniable that women are still facing an uphill climb in traditionally male-dominated industries like manufacturing, and that only is compounded in the ranks of VPs and higher. However, this also can be a golden opportunity for companies to set themselves apart by building a reputation as a place that welcomes women, encourages them to thrive, and gives them real opportunities to be changemakers.


The Role of the Role Model

One of the trickle-down effects of having fewer women in manufacturing leadership positions is that there are fewer “role models” for up-and-coming women in the industry to model their career paths on, or to serve as mentors with unique understanding. Today, women who have achieved leadership roles in the industry are making it their mission to mentor those who are coming up the ranks, and it’s hard to overstate the importance of that work.

“Earlier in my career, there were few female partners, principals or managing directors, and there were even fewer diverse female partners. I’m 100% first-generation Indian, so being a role model is important to me,” Seema Pajula, the US Clients, Industries & Insights Leader for Deloitte LLP, revealed in a Deloitte profile. She advises women looking to rise into leadership positions, “Take the best of all of those around you, and also take note of the not-so-good as well, because knowing who you don’t want to be may prove to be even more important than knowing who you want to emulate.”

Networking and connections among women in leadership goes well beyond the hierarchical structure of a mentor-mentee relationship. It’s also a sense of solidarity across levels and job titles. When women can see other women and work alongside them, the workplace can feel less lonely, and women can feel a little less pressure to excel as the “only” member representing their group.

In a 2020 article for Strategy + Business, author and leadership expert Sally Helgesen reflects on this decades-long journey of growth for women in the workplace. She describes the growth of solidarity and an increased understanding that supporting women isn’t “just” a gender or inclusion issue, but an integral part of developing and recruiting talent. In years past, Helgesen describes, the rare women who did rise to leadership positions feared that mentoring other women or participating in initiatives would hurt their own careers and credibility. In manufacturing, where “boys’ club” mentalities may persist to a degree, it’s critical to move past these dated perceptions and encourage further solidarity and “paying it forward.”


Inclusion Benefits Everyone

Even for those who drag their feet ideas and initiatives like these, it’s hard to ignore the fact that diverse teams often outperform more homogenous groups.

Research led by Thomas W. Malone, Anita Woolley, Christopher Chabris, Sandy Pentland, and Nada Hashmi found that having more women in a group raises the group’s collective intelligence. In fact, having more women on the team had a bigger impact than having individuals with higher IQs! In discussing their experiment with the Harvard Business Review, Malone and Woolley posited that at least part of the explanation has to do with women’s higher degree of “social sensitivities,” thus improving overall group performance and creating a more open flow of information. Having leadership teams that are more diverse, one might extrapolate, could benefit the organization as a whole, especially in an industry like manufacturing where it’s crucial to stay on top of fast-changing technology and trends.

Similarly, a 2018 report from McKinsey found a “correlation between diversity (defined here as a greater proportion of women and ethnically/culturally diverse individuals) in the leadership of large companies and financial outperformance.” Surveyed companies that were in the top quartile for gender diversity in leadership were also 21% more likely to outperform on profitability; those who landed in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity were 33% more likely to outperform.

The opposite also is true. The same McKinsey study found that “companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability than were all other companies in our data set.”

In other words: diverse teams, especially those that put an emphasis on inclusion and belonging, lead to better outcomes across the board. As the manufacturing sector works to rebound from the lows of the past year or so, companies should be looking for every advantage they can get. For women looking to advance to leadership roles, this just might be the perfect time.


By Rose Dorta

Are you a high-performing leader or believe you have the potential to tackle a more challenging role? Would you be interested in career opportunities that are seeking these attributes?

I’d love to chat with you and answer any questions that you have. Email me, Rose Dorta, managing director of Kaizen HR Solutions, here.

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