Volume 3, Issue 2 - Fall 2018

With Rhonda Barnet, president and COO of Steelworks Design and national chair of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters

What is the Women in Manufacturing (WIM) initiative?

WIM is a national initiative of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), aimed at reviewing the trends for women in the manufacturing workforce in Canada compared to other countries, understanding the issues and barriers that are preventing more women from entering and existing women from advancing, and coming up with solutions to increase the participation and success of women in manufacturing.

Attracting more women into manufacturing professions is critical to helping companies grow and to replace the existing and aging workforce. To do this, CME’s WIM Working Group is focusing its efforts on the following pillars:

Engage and inspire: Introduce STEM to young women and girls;

Attract and retain: Increase the number of women entering and staying in the manufacturing workforce; and

Empower, support, and accelerate: Help women achieve success in the workplace by breaking down barriers to their personal and professional growth.

What level of female participation is there in the Canadian manufacturing workforce?

In Canada, women account for 48 per cent of the labour force, but only 28 per cent of the manufacturing workforce. What is even more alarming: There has been no increase in the share of manufacturing jobs held by women over the last 30 years.

What are some steps we can take as an industry to attract more women into manufacturing careers?

In 2017, CME released Untapped Potential — an action plan identifying the challenges women face in advancing their careers in manufacturing, the perception of manufacturing as a career option for women, and the barriers that impede women-led manufacturing firms. The plan highlights five areas where action is needed to improve female representation:

1. More high-profile female role models are needed to inspire and encourage young women to pursue a career in manufacturing;

2. Young women need more exposure to modern manufacturing facilities to gain a more accurate perspective on the career opportunities available to them (those efforts need to focus on occupations within manufacturing rather than on the sector itself);

3. Efforts to encourage young girls to pursue an education in STEM fields and/or the skilled trades need to be improved;

4. Businesses need to listen to the concerns of women and take steps to make their workplace culture more inclusive; and

5. Businesses must find creative ways to improve work-life balance for their employees and to accommodate both women and men who have unavoidable family obligations.

What advice do you have for young women considering a career in the manufacturing sector?

Eighty-five per cent of women in manufacturing love their job and 70 per cent would recommend the career choice to other women.  We just don’t have enough women knocking on the door of our Canadian facilities.   

Manufacturing isn’t the same industry it once was. The days of ‘dirty and dangerous’ have long since passed. Manufacturing leverages technology and offers amazing opportunities for career growth; with opportunities to see the world, and to learn and interact with some of the brightest minds in the world. You work to create amazing things, and work at the very heart of industry. Innovation, and ingenuity are rewarded, and success is helping make the world and everything we use better.

Manufacturing careers also offer opportunities to close the gender wage gap. We see little or no gap in our highly skilled professions.

What does success look like for the WIM initiative?

Success is moving the dial. We aim to increase the percentage of women in the manufacturing workforce by 10 per cent over the next decade — or an increase of 100,000 new jobs held by women in Canadian manufacturing.

We need manufacturers to stand up and pledge that diversity matters. Companies that pledge will commit to support women in manufacturing, creating inclusive workplaces, engaging your communities and sharing your success stories.   

But we will not be successful without the support from manufacturers across the country. As this campaign rolls out, CME will be asking the manufacturing community to pledge their support for the WIM initiative.