Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Editorial: Leading the change in manufacturing


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Much has been published on the gender diversity issue in manufacturing – despite accounting for nearly half of the workforce, women comprise about 29 per cent of the manufacturing industry, and that number has been stagnant for almost 40 years. When it comes to the skilled trades, only about four per cent of jobs are occupied by women.

These stats are especially of concern for a sector that is already experiencing a labour shortage – 85 per cent of Canadian manufacturers are currently struggling to fill job vacancies, according to a 2019 report by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

The industry has been talking about ways to solve the skills shortage for years, such as hiring and training people from underrepresented groups including women. But still that number hovers at 29 per cent, stymied by things like outdated perceptions of manufacturing, traditional hiring practices, inflexible job schedules and workplace cultures that can be challenging or oppressive for women to navigate.

This issue is systemic and requires more than a simple fix of “hiring more women.” In an effort to highlight this, the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing, a non-profit that raises awareness about the advanced manufacturing sector in Ontario, takes a new approach with its latest report, Gender Diversity and Ontario Manufacturing: Lessons from Five Leading Companies.

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One of the report’s key takeaways is to involve women, particularly when it comes to planning, implementing and reviewing practices intended to support or promote gender equity and diversity.

The report contains case studies from Ontario manufacturers who are walking the talk when it comes to increasing gender diversity, as well as 10 lessons for the manufacturing value chain to consider as they evaluate their equity, diversity and inclusion policies.

“Recruiting, retaining, and supporting women’s career advancement should be the result of good policies and practices, not mandates or quotas,” the report authors say. “This means removing barriers that unintentionally exclude women.”

Those barriers include, but are not limited to, the language used in recruitment processes or within the workplace itself, as well as compensation based on past salaries, which tends to perpetuate ongoing pay inequalities between men and women.

Trillium Network found that there is a correlation between companies making a concerted effort to develop robust gender diversity initiatives and attracting top-level talent. And when there’s talent, there’s a competitive advantage.

Each featured manufacturer has implemented a comprehensive strategy to recruit, retain and advance women. Among other initiatives, Honda of Canada Mfg. holds a Women@Honda event every two weeks for women interested in learning more about the company. Workshop attendees receive plant tours and an overview of Honda’s recruitment process, as well as a Q&A session with staff. At the end of the event, they’re encouraged to formally apply to Honda.

Policies like these may be unusual in the manufacturing sector, but Honda, MAD Elevator and the other three companies profiled in the Trillium Network’s report prove that they don’t need to be.

At MAD Elevator, where women make up 40 per cent of the management team, leaders check in with employees about whether the manufacturer is sticking to its equity and inclusion commitments – which include diversity and anti-violence training, flexible schedule opportunities, and robust time-off policies. When COVID-19 hit, the company paid a sum equivalent to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to its employees who couldn’t find childcare, so that they could in turn pay relatives to babysit their kids.

Policies like these may be unusual in the manufacturing sector, but Honda, MAD Elevator and the other three companies profiled in the Trillium Network’s report prove that they don’t need to be. One of the report’s key takeaways is to involve women, particularly when it comes to planning, implementing and reviewing practices intended to support or promote gender equity and diversity (and the same goes for race, age and other demographics).

Inviting diverse voices to the boardroom table makes good business sense – different perspectives can help to highlight blind spots, shake up the status quo and establish out-of-the-box strategies to ensure your company stays on the path to success. There’s no better time to start the conversation – International Women’s Day is Mar. 8.

Speaking of expanding our knowledge, I’m pleased to introduce a new column to MA, Word of Law, which will cover legal issues in manufacturing, from technology innovation to intellectual property (IP) to financing.

Lorraine M. Fleck, a lawyer, trademark agent and in-house legal counsel for a CPG company, will be one of the column’s regular contributors. If you’re thinking about new ways to grow your business, read her IP primer.

This editorial appears in the March/April 2021 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.