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How to Increase Female Representation in Manufacturing

The new digital reality opens up new avenues and doors to lead agile manufacturing companies.

Women represent 47 percent of the overall workforce. But in manufacturing, that number drops to 29 percent. When you look at women leaders in manufacturing, that percentage becomes vanishingly small.

That’s why ManpowerGroup organized their 3rd annual  summit for women leaders in manufacturing. Women, Let’s Catch the Shift: Navigating Digital Era Paradoxes in Manufacturing addresses how to begin to change this gender divide. The discussion included Gina Boswell, former president of customer development at Unilever, who provided the following advice for organizations.

Value outside perspectives

Boswell shares the example of transitioning to the automotive industry after starting as a certified public accountant and working in the beauty industry. “People found it amusing that I moved from cosmetics to cars,” Boswell said. When starting in manufacturing, she felt unsure of herself as someone who “couldn’t even change a flat” on her car. However, the CEO assured her that thousands of people at the company could change a tire – but that wasn’t the perspective they needed for the future. “Sometimes knowledge is power,” Boswell said. “But sometimes it can be a limiter, especially in times of change.”

Increase diversity to increase agility

The digital transformation means that the normal rules of how companies and consumers interact are changing. Notably, this means that customers can now customize their orders on websites, buy virtually anything online, and interact directly with brands through digital media channels. “The traditional pyramid organization with reporting lines and boxes have become much less efficient as the digital transformation takes hold,” Boswell said. “Agile is about moving organizations as pyramid to organization as living organisms.” But to execute agile teams, Boswell said, organizations need diversity, cross-functional teams and female talent and leadership. “The best performing teams come from a variety of people,” Boswell said.

Hire for curiosity

“The single most important attribute that I look for in hiring has been curiosity,” Boswell said. She cited her own curiosity about emerging technologies like Uber, Snapchat and Instagram and the endless digital information. High-performing teams don’t just have technology know-how, but also see ways to connect the dots. This means hiring both digital natives as well as mature workers who focus on upskilling – and across gender lines. “What you know is less important that what you can learn,” Boswell said. 

Companies need to know when an outside perspective – especially from underrepresented women leaders – can take their company in innovative new directions. As Boswell noted in her keynote, the manufacturing companies that recognize these new paths will have an advantage.