Closing the Gap: Women in Manufacturing

The COVID-19 pandemic created challenges for employers and workers across all industries, some of which we are still trying to overcome two years later.

Facing school and daycare closures, many working mothers had no choice but to leave their jobs. Others felt compelled to take a step back as they tried to juggle the demands of work with their children’s needs and virtual learning.

Even as schools have reopened and our economy has begun to bounce back, a significant number of women have opted to stay out of the workforce. As of February 2022, nearly two million fewer women were in the workforce than before COVID-19. And in industries like manufacturing, where disparities between men and women predated the pandemic, the road to closing the gender gap has gotten even longer.

Women made up about 47 percent of the total workforce in 2020, but according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), held just 29.5 percent of manufacturing roles industrywide. In contrast, women made up more than half of all workers within the education and health services (74.6 percent), financial activities (51.9 percent), and leisure and hospitality (50.4 percent) sectors during the same time period.

However, with the business community, elected officials, and other key stakeholders continuing to invest significant resources in STEM initiatives and education, there’s reason to be optimistic about more women entering the field—and a proactive approach to recruiting could also be a critical part of the solution.

The 2022 Career Advancement for Manufacturing Annual Report found that 70 percent of women in manufacturing say they “fell into the industry,” while the other 30 percent actively chose the field. Furthermore, 22 percent of women reported beginning their manufacturing careers as a result of being recruited, compared to just 16 percent of men.

The survey also revealed that women are far more likely to seek out manufacturing jobs as a result of STEM education. 48 percent of women sought out industry careers because they graduated from a STEM program, compared to 13 percent of their male counterparts. Men were more likely than women to express a general interest in manufacturing which led them to seek out a profession in the field.

“It’s important for women to be aware of the manufacturing career paths available to them, whether they’re students or they’ve already entered the workforce through a different industry,” said Setara Guajardo, Vice President of Client Solutions and Delivery for Acara Solutions. “A career in manufacturing can not only offer stability but as the industry continues to innovate and evolve, there will be lots of opportunities for upskilling and growth.”

The manufacturing sector accounted for 12.657 million jobs in March 2022, an increase from 12.268 million during this time last year. And while industrywide employment has not quite caught up to its pre-pandemic levels, manufacturing has bounced back more quickly than other fields, adding 38,000 new jobs during the month of March.

But no industry is immune to the widespread and persistent workforce shortages we’ve seen across the country. The National Association of Manufacturers estimated last year that 2.1 million jobs in the field could go unfilled by 2030, which could cost the industry $1 trillion in 2030 alone.

 “Now is the time for manufacturers to really prioritize hiring and retaining more women—not just to close the gender gap, but to ensure our manufacturing industry is well-positioned to keep our economy moving forward,” added Guajardo.

Acara Solutions offers manufacturers a full suite of workforce solutions, including contingent staffing, direct placement, contract-to-direct, executive search, and employer branding. To learn more about how we can build your manufacturing workforce, contact us today.