Skip to main content

Greenville Business Magazine

Panel Examines Women in Manufacturing

Oct 26, 2017 10:23AM ● By Emily Stevenson

By Emily Stevenson


Although thoughts differ on how to encourage more women to enter the manufacturing field, one thing is certain: companies benefit from a diverse workforce.

“Innovation increases when you get different people working together,” says Patricia Buckley, managing director, economics, with Deloitte Services LP. “You’re going to get innovative solutions.

Buckley, along with several other industry insiders, discussed the value of women in manufacturing at a recent roundtable discussion held as part of SOUTH-TEC. The conference took place Oct. 24-26 at the TD Convention Center in Greenville, showcasing the latest manufacturing technologies.

Kimberly Jackson, business operations with Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, says that women bring a perspective to the table that makes the company as a whole more competitive. For instance, in Honda vans, popular with mothers of young children, there’s often no place for a diaper bag or large purse. Having women on the manufacturing team allows the company to create a better product.

“Some facets aren’t considered,” Jackson says. “Women want certain things not offered in vehicles.”

Cheryl Thompson agrees.

“You need women as part of the workforce to understand the customer base,” she says.

Thompson spent more than 30 years at Ford and is currently the CEO and founder of Lead One Lead All, an organization dedicated to bridging the gender gap in the industrial sector. In her many interviews to determine the needs and desires of industry, particularly automotive, she says her biggest takeaway is that men do want women and other minorities to be engaged members of their leadership teams.

“Men want us at the table,” Thompson says. “We need to take up space and invite ourselves in.”

Companies have long recognized the benefits of a diverse workplace. Quotas used to be commonplace in the manufacturing sector to ensure enough women and minorities were in executive positions, but those good intentions often backfired.

Thompson herself recalled being a “line item” and was encouraged to take a promotion she wasn’t ready for. She ultimately declined, but said that many women who took the positions were unhappy and/or unsuccessful in their roles. Many seasoned executives remember this, and are hesitant to hire or promote women for that reason.

Mentorship is a key way to help propel women and minorities up the corporate ladder while making sure they’re prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
“You have to make your organization look attractive [to women],” says Jackson. “They are equal contributors. Match them with mentors. Invest in them.”

Many young professionals, women especially, are unclear on what a mentor actually is. By helping new employees find an older employee with which to meet and learn, companies are actively creating opportunities for women to be successful and to be ready for the next phase of their career.

Even after hiring women, retaining them is often a challenge. Flexible work policies and practices, the opportunity to work from home, and open environments for employees of both genders are ways to keep the female workforce engaged and committed. The Millennial generation, especially, prizes a healthy work-life balance, and companies that make that difficult are more likely to lose employees.

“The interests and aspirations of this generation are wide,” says Jackson. “They want family dynamics and options to have it all and to do it well.”

In short, manufacturers seeking to create a more gender-equal workforce should take a long look at policies, procedures, and growth opportunities to make their company more enticing to all individuals. Although the initial hurdle may seem insurmountable, the payoff is huge.

Says Lynn Kier, vice president of communications and marketing for Schaeffler Group, USA, Inc., “The more diverse the group of people planning, the more attractive you are as a company.”