A Snapshot of Women in the Manufacturing Workforce

A comprehensive study of women who work in manufacturing was released in December 2020 byThomas (www.thomasnet.com) and Women in Manufacturing (WiM, www.womeninmanufacturing.com). It will serve as a benchmark for following progress and gaining insight into various areas, including the lack of women in management, improving diversity and inclusion practices in the industry and how increasing the number of women employees can help address the manufacturing skills gap.


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The study, conducted by online survey, included more than 400 responses from companies with a range of annual revenue from less than $4.9 million to more than $1 billion. Their number of employees ranged from fewer than 100 to more than 15,000.

Of the survey respondents, 38% are in the manufacturing industry. Of those, about half are custom manufacturers and about one-quarter are original equipment manufacturers.

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While the study found about one in three manufacturing employees is a woman, only about one in four manufacturing company leaders is female. Other industries have different numbers. Notably, the medical and healthcare area has about half employees who are women and slightly less than half women in company leadership. On the other end of the spectrum of industries surveyed, the aerospace and defense industry has about 24% women employees and only 18% in leadership. Other segments with a low proportion of women leaders are agriculture and automotive.

The study found that companies with more women employees tend to also have more women on the company management team. “Female employee representation is strongly and positively correlated with female leadership presence suggesting that a gender-balanced environment fosters more diverse leadership (and vice versa),” the report stated.


The study inquired how companies find qualified women employees, what benefits might help entice them to consider working for a company and how to help them advance their careers.

Job-listing websites, employee referral programs and internship/apprenticeship programs were the top three ways to find qualified female candidates, according to the human resources staff who responded to the study. Comments also indicated some companies do outreach to the community to help girls and young women learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, a long-range strategy for increasing future interest.

As for benefits, the study inquired about what benefits companies offer and what other benefits employees would like to receive. One perhaps surprising result was that more than half of companies responding already offer paid maternity (74%) and paternity (63%) leave. Popular additional benefits—noted by more than half the respondents—were on-site child care (93% of women, 86% of men), transportation allowance and paid time off for volunteering.

Resources useful in career growth included associations (such as WiM), mentorships and workplace groups. Respondents noted a variety of training and support resources available at their companies. They also mentioned the value of mentorships. Formal mentorship programs were offered at the companies of 16% of the respondents. Informal mentoring seems to be going on, as well, since 43% of women and 29% of men responding to a mentorship question said they have a mentor.


Manufacturing can be a very satisfying career choice for anyone, including women. One of the perennial recruiting challenges is that many, perhaps most, young women and men do not know about the opportunities manufacturing can offer. Here are three examples of women at different stages of their manufacturing journeys.

An early-career woman in manufacturing is Amanda Reel, a welder at TRUMPF. She went to work directly from vocational training at high school. “I like the challenge of manufacturing—something about making things from scratch entices me,” Reel said

in an interview published online in the WiM “Hear Her Story” series (https://www.womeninmanufacturing.org/news/amanda-reel-welder-at-trumpf). “Many kids, especially girls, don’t even know these good, high-paying, rewarding jobs exist. I’m sure if young women knew what an interesting, well-paying career they could have in manufacturing they would give it a closer look.”

In another “Hear Her Story”interview, Katie Davis, director of engineering operations excellence at Ingersoll Rand, shared her experience. “Of all of the career opportunities I have had in the last 16 years, manufacturing has offered me the greatest growth, on both a personal and professional level,” Davis said.

“There is an endless array of career possibilities—from production to information technology and engineering to finance—that are available to young women through the manufacturing industry.”

“I have been around manufacturing since I was seven,” said Jan Rayburn, president at VMA associate member Rayson Company (www.raysoncompany.com) in a phone interview. “I am still constantly inspired. Manufacturing inspires everyone and women are ready to be inspired by it. It’s time to get involved in the industry.”


The report offered recommendations, including:

  • Additional recruitment of women to increase their participation in manufacturing beyond the current 33% of employees and 26% of leadership positions.
  • Sectors with the least number of women leaders, in particular, should invest in areas such as training, mentorship and association partnerships to increase their female leadership.
  • Certain employee benefits could help attract women to companies. For example, the survey results suggest that on-site child care could be especially effective in bringing in desired employees.

Barbara Donohue (bdonohue@vma.org) is Web editor at VALVE Magazine (www.valvemagazine.com).