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Women in manufacturing

Stepping up to make an impact that matters

Women in manufacturing are seeing positive changes in the industry’s attitude towards recruiting, retaining, and advancing women over the last five years, but we are not done yet. Explore the role of manufacturing firms and industry ambassadors in fostering a community of women in manufacturing.

Women in manufacturing study overview

The Manufacturing Institute, APICS, and Deloitte surveyed more than 600 women in manufacturing and conducted nearly 20 manufacturing executive interviews to explore how effectively manufacturing companies are attracting, recruiting, and retaining women, and what should be done to close the gender gap. The women we surveyed are well-educated (90 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or above), experienced (71 percent have been working over 15 years), hold a variety of senior positions, and are employed by large companies (52 percent work in organizations with annual revenue over $1 billion).

Women represent a vast talent pool: Women constitute one of US manufacturing’s largest pools of untapped talent. Women totaled about 47 percent of the US labor force in 2016, but only 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce.1 Women earn more than half of all associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees.2 Women are also advancing in their careers, holding more than half of all US managerial and professional positions.3 So if there are plenty of qualified women in the workforce, why aren’t they in manufacturing?

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Women in manufacturing 2017 study

What do women have to say?

Given that women are underrepresented in manufacturing and the argument to increase the industry’s fair share of female talent is persuasive, one thing is certain: Manufacturing companies likely need a different approach to recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in the workplace. The women we surveyed and interviewed had a lot to say on the topic, not just about jobs they’ve had (or aspire to have), but about manufacturing and changes they would like to see in the industry’s culture.

What’s in it for manufacturers?
Research shows that gender diversity benefits a manufacturing organization through improved ability to innovate, higher return on equity, and increased profitability. When employees believe that their organization is committed to inclusion, they report better business performance in terms of their ability to innovate. Organizations can also unleash the full potential of their female workforces by creating a culture where unique strengths thrive.

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Women writing on paper

Recruiting and retaining female talent

The Manufacturing Institute is promoting the role of women in manufacturing through the STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production) Ahead initiative, which serves to mentor and recognize women while also leading research efforts tackling this important topic. STEP Ahead inspires next-generation female leaders to pursue a career in manufacturing and showcases the amazing opportunities the manufacturing industry can offer. The Manufacturing Institute has recognized 672 women with STEP/Emerging Leader awards over the period 2013–2017.

In addition to the STEP Ahead initiative, female ambassadors, communities, and academia are coming together to foster female interest in the industry and to exemplify the potential that exists for women in the industry.

Opportunities to bolster manufacturing’s attractiveness to women can begin at home and in schools, and female ambassadors can play an important role in improving perceptions. Currently, according to the study results, very few women in manufacturing believe the school system actively encourages female students to pursue careers in their industry.

The good news? Many schools and the manufacturing industry have upped their game over the last two years, and women are noticing:

  • 29 percent of women in 2017 (compared to 12 percent in 2015) think the school system actively/somewhat encourages female students to pursue a career in the manufacturing industry
  • 42 percent of women in 2017 (compared to 24 percent in 2015) are now ready to encourage their daughter or female family member to pursue a career in their industry
  • More than half of women (58 percent) have observed marked or some positive changes in their industry’s attitude towards female professional employees, over the last five years

STEP Ahead Honorees and Emerging Leaders have also played an integral role in motivating women to choose careers in manufacturing—a majority of STEP Awardees (88 percent) have engaged with individuals to raise the visibility of the industry.

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woman working with manufacturing equipment

Leading strategies for advancing women

The Women in Manufacturing: Stepping ahead to make an impact study, written in conjunction with The Manufacturing Institute, explores leading strategies for recruiting, retaining, and advancing women, including:

  • The state of women in manufacturing
  • Focusing on the potential of women can reap big rewards
  • Leadership perspectives
  • The collective power of ambassadors, companies, education, and industry
  • Retention drivers and perceived gaps
  • The path to recruiting, retaining, and advancing talented women

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Women working on tin smithy

Access the archive

Women in manufacturing 2015

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