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A growing number of women are entering the manufacturing industry


The number of women in jobs in manufacturing increased steadily between 2010 and 2020, and after a dip during the pandemic, those numbers are going up again. The nature of these jobs has changed, too - less manual labor, more tech and automation. Allison Grealis is the founder and president of the Women in Manufacturing trade association. She joins us now to talk about how the industry has evolved. Allison, thank you so much for being here.

ALLISON GREALIS: Thanks so much for having me.

RASCOE: Why has the number of women in manufacturing grown over the last decade or so, particularly since the pandemic drove so many women out of the labor force?

GREALIS: You know, I think women are now hearing about these great opportunities in manufacturing. I think they're also hearing more about the fact that the pay is really strong, competitive and great in manufacturing and things like the increase in automation and, as well, some of the early intervention things that we're doing as a society related to STEM and STEAM camps and education - I think all of those things combined are really helping.

RASCOE: Are we talking about more women in production, or do these jobs also include, like, office and executive positions?

GREALIS: Yeah, we see the representation of women in manufacturing going up across the board, in all different types of positions. So women in leadership - which present-day women make up about 1 in 4 manufacturing leaders - and, as well, increased numbers in production and support, administrative functions, sales, marketing, human resources - so really all levels and areas of manufacturing.

RASCOE: With automation, there's less physical labor in some of these jobs. Is that what's making manufacturing more accessible to women? And what else may be helping this?

GREALIS: You know, I think new positions and roles and responsibilities are being created thanks to automation, also thanks to the diversification of the types of things that companies are making. So I think women, especially those graduating from four-year institutions with degrees in engineering and science and technology - I think they're seeing this great linkage and connectivity to these new careers and types of positions in manufacturing.

RASCOE: So can you kind of give some specific examples of what a woman would find if she entered manufacturing today for a job?

GREALIS: We hear it more and more that women are entering through, often, co-ops or internships. Those that are people in four-year degree programs, you know, first getting introduced, perhaps, through that co-op or internship. From there, finding opportunity to work full-time in an engineering department or in a production area and/or role or responsibility. And when we've done surveys for women in industry manufacturing, you know, they told us one of the biggest reasons they stay in manufacturing is if they have that opportunity for career development.

RASCOE: Manufacturing remains a pretty male-dominated field, with only about 30% of women making up the workforce. So what are some of the barriers still keeping them out?

GREALIS: We still have a ways to go. We still have more marketing and promotion that we have to do about the opportunities in manufacturing companies and the career trajectories that are attainable within manufacturing. So companies are still looking at their policies and their practices to make sure that they're inclusive to a diverse workforce and population. And research that we've done and other organizations have done have told us that the key thing that a job seeker is looking for is workplace flexibility. And so companies are getting creative. They're looking at new shift schedules. They're looking at job sharing. They're looking at ways that they can embrace that even down to the production level line - and then, as well, we've even seen some companies be progressive in creating onsite daycare or childcare services to help, especially, the single mom population so that they stay working and still have that ability to provide and support for their family.

RASCOE: The jobs report last week showed a pretty strong labor market. Manufacturers still added jobs but not as many as in recent months. What do you make of that?

GREALIS: So we know companies are still struggling with finding talent, and it's - companies have had to get creative. We look at companies looking at, you know, virtual career fairs and going into target population groups, like veterans organizations and second-chance hiring and going into women's organizations, like ours, to try to connect with other potential talent pools of individuals. So I think all industries are struggling with, how do you get people back to the labor force? We know more than 2 million women left the workforce during the pandemic and went through a reevaluation. So companies have got to be an attractive and great place to work to get people to come back into working.

RASCOE: You know, even with the recent bump in jobs, we know that, overall, the statistics show that manufacturing employment started falling from its peak about 40 years ago, with a significant drop in the year 2000. What is the future of these jobs in the U.S. for manufacturing?

GREALIS: I think the future is really bright. I think an estimated 350,000 new jobs will be created because of reshoring and nearshoring initiatives. So I think there'll be no shortage of opportunity. And I think, again, the positions should be even more compelling and attractive for job seekers.

RASCOE: That's Allison Grealis, founder and president of the Women in Manufacturing organization. Thank you so much for joining us.

GREALIS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.