Women in Manufacturing

Mind the gap

By Carrie Schroeder

Decades of research points to a gender wage gap in Canada – one that as a country, we’re sadly failing to close.

On average, Canadian women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The reasons behind the gap are complex and rooted in social norms, gender roles, and career choices, but the fact that remains that the decision to have and raise children is part the issue. In short, we have a mother (and father) of a problem.

At the same time, manufacturers continue to identify labour shortages as a key concern for their business performance heading into the first few quarters of 2020.

A recent CME survey of more than 225 manufacturers across Canada delivered results that are less than surprising: 85 per cent of manufacturers struggle to fill vacancies. Labour and skills shortages are holding back manufacturing, and by extension, Canada’s economic prosperity. 

It’s one thing to be experiencing a labour and skills shortage, but it’s another issue entirely if companies are not trying to engage with potential pools of employees they have traditionally left untapped.

In the case of manufacturing, employers have generally failed to attract one obvious source of labour: women.

In Canada, women account for 48 per cent of the workforce but only 28 per cent of the workforce in manufacturing. By and large, it’s a segment that comes ready to work with shared language, culture and (when comparing post-secondary enrolment trends) suggests higher levels of education. However, for more than 30 years the gender breakdown in the manufacturing industry has not changed.

Manufacturers must step back and examine the message they are sending to women in their organizations – not just in the words we choose and mission statements we adopt – but in the hard facts, figures, and data points.

If you’re in a position of leadership within a manufacturing organization, I strongly encourage you to undertake a company-wide payroll analysis by gender. What numerous labour market analyses tell us, and your results will likely support, is that the parenthood penalty may mean you are losing talent to more conscious competitors.

As women (and increasingly men) take short-term leaves from their careers for childbirth and parental leave, they often return a step or more behind their counterparts. Two similarly qualified candidates will quickly fall out of sync, no matter how equal their contributions.

To stay competitive, manufacturers increasingly need to attract the best talent available in their industry and eliminate barriers to retention, such as outdated parental leave or compensation policies that no longer align with a vision to attract, and keep, the best talent in the market. 

According to Forbes, the average salary increase when a candidate changes employers is approximately 10 to 20 per cent. A minimal investment in parity could not only reduce your turnover and recruitment costs by a significant margin, but more importantly, position your company as an employer of choice and a champion of inclusion and diversity – factors that are increasingly important to today’s job seekers. What’s more, new hires usually come onboard in the median range of salary distribution for a role. Replacing an employee instead of adjusting their compensation may in fact cost you significantly more in both risk and reward. 

 So, what can today’s smart manufacturer do about it?

Complex problems often appear impossible to solve, but we can control our own sandboxes.

Analyze your payroll, determine the root causes of any discrepancies, put the right policies and procedures in place and make the effort and commitment to sustain these efforts. Should you choose to take your review a step further, a legal review including best practices and competitive analysis can help to inform whether or not you’re doing the ‘right’ thing on all accounts. Additionally, organizations like CME can help by providing information, resources, and connections to recognized experts. 

Most forward-thinking companies intentionally seek out diversity in all its forms. Diversity is a driver of innovative thinking and is as important to competitive performance as strengths in other core business skills. If you’re not undertaking practices that actively invite and welcome different demographics, including women, you risk falling short of your competitors when it comes to attracting and keeping the talent it takes to stay at the forefront of the next industrial revolution. 

Today’s workplaces need employees that can multi-task, work under tight deadlines, handle pressure and stress, and still perform. Who better than parents – and specifically mothers – for the job? 

Carrie Schroeder is Director of Operations for Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) in Manitoba, and is one of the driving forces behind CME’s Women in Manufacturing initiative. To learn more, visit womeninmanufacturing.ca