Was Rosie the Riveter a good role model for women in manufacturing or not? The jury may still be out on that one. On the one hand, she represents strength, optimism, and opportunity. On the other, she communicates some outdated ideas of manufacturing as exhausting, dirty work.
Today’s manufacturing jobs are highly skilled in clean facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. They pay well, offer opportunities for advancement, and allow people to play an important role in the success of the company.
In spite of this, only about 29% of the manufacturing workforce is female, compared to 47% of the labor force overall.
A 2017 Deloitte report on the state of women in manufacturing offered some key insights into the needs women have when they join the manufacturing industry.
The most important things are:
- Attractive pay
- Challenging and interesting work
- Work-life balance
The things that make them leave their jobs are:
- Lack of promotion opportunities
- Poor working relationships
- Unattractive pay, unchallenging work, and poor work-life balance
There are a number of ways that companies can encourage the growth of women in manufacturing. A few of them are:
- Change the perception of manufacturing work as dirty and unfriendly to women.
- Educate women about opportunities while they are making career decisions. Most don’t realize this is an option during their high school and college years.
- Make women role models visible in the organization and industry and offer mentors.
- Facilitate women communicating with and supporting other women. Like everyone, women need friends at work.
- Emphasize benefits that provide work-life balance. Concretely demonstrate how the job fits into their lifestyle and other responsibilities.
- Stress the satisfying features of manufacturing. For example, it’s innovative and tangible, builds for the future, and contributes to a better quality of life for others.
- Communicate the variety of career paths within manufacturing: everything from those that are very hands-on to sales work to research and planning.
In 1964, a brilliant woman named Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar which is used to make bulletproof vests. She was born in 1923 and joined the manufacturing workforce to earn money for medical school during the “Rosie the Riveter” years. She found the work satisfying and interesting and made it her career, eventually becoming a chemist at DuPont. She was awarded 17 patents during her life.
Recently, Industry Week named Chicago the #3 city in the United States for manufacturing jobs for women with 173,376 jobs and 31.1% of the manufacturing workforce. Maybe someone in our city will be the next Stephanie Kwolek.