Women in food manufacturing

Women were 29% of the U.S. manufacturing workforce in 2016, even though they made up 47% of the overall labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As food and beverage companies attempt to address the shortage of labor, what can they do to attract more women to manufacturing and retain them?

The first step in getting more women into manufacturing is to address its image, which often includes visions of a dark, dirty, heavy-lifting environment. The industry needs to change the public perception of manufacturing, according to experts at the Empowering Women in Manufacturing event at PACK EXPO International. “Manufacturers also need to adopt policies to encourage women into the industry. For example, women want flexibility and look for benefits such as teleworking and maternity leave.”

To help address the question of retaining women in manufacturing, Putman Media, publisher of Food Processing started a program called Influential Women in Manufacturing. A recent webinar looked at strategies to retain and advance women in the industry.

The webinar explored four approaches that work:

  • Inclusion as a business imperative: Put metrics behind inclusion and make it intentional.
  • Understanding the dynamics of culture, such as dominate, subordinated, and systemic privilege: White men tend not to think of themselves as a group but as individuals. But they are traditionally the dominant group and often have blind spots that come from not having a diversity of perspectives.
  • Executives who personalize the work: Senior leadership needs to buy into and actively support inclusion efforts.
  • Critical dialogue and commitment to action: Get everyone on board and let them know they are all welcome in the discussion.

The webinar also pointed out five things that don’t work:

  • Leaving out white men: Everybody needs to come to the discussion and be part of the solution.
  • Lack of business ownership: If nobody takes ownership of inclusion efforts and is responsible and accountable for initiatives, they are less likely to succeed.
  • Viewing diversity as a problem: Value different perspectives and use them to improve the business.
  • Thinking “that’s the way we have always done it” doesn’t cut it for any area of business.
  • Expecting everyone to assimilate to the dominant culture: When people change who they are, they don’t bring the best of themselves to the job.

Why make the effort? “Research shows that gender diversity benefits a manufacturing organization through improved ability to innovate, higher return on equity, and increased profitability,” according to a 2017 Deloitte study of women in manufacturing. “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.”

Practical steps to promote inclusion and diversity include mentoring, coaching, and professional development opportunities, equally available to everyone in the company. Companies can survey women (and men) employees to understand their personal values and how they view the company culture. Knowing employee mindsets can help companies shape an organization that supports everyone.

Twelve food and beverage companies made the Bloomberg 2019 Gender-Equality Index, which identified 230 companies committed to advancing women in the workplace. Is your company up to the challenge?

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