Women are more likely to quit jobs in manufacturing than women in other industries, reflecting a history of sexual harassment, unequal pay and opportunity denied. They are also more likely than men to leave manufacturing jobs, according to a new study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
The findings provide insight into the challenges faced by women in male-dominated industries. They make clear that manufacturers can help themselves and build a more competitive workforce by addressing these longstanding issues.
“Not only will women and their families gain from having access to these well-paying jobs, but industry will benefit richly from the skills, talents and diversity that more women can bring,” said Kim Churches, AAUW’s chief executive officer. “Our findings are a call to action for employers to increase the presence – and power – of women in the manufacturing world.”
Blue-collar women have been hard hit by a retrenchment in factory jobs since the 1970s, and those with less education have suffered the most, according to the report, entitled Factory Flaw: The Attrition and Retention of Women in Manufacturing. The AAUW findings were based on a survey of 214 women who work in manufacturing, along with an analysis of employment and wage trends over the past two decades.
U.S. manufacturing shed 4.4 million jobs between 2000 and 2020, mostly in the earlier years. But women, who hold about one in three manufacturing jobs, have been hit harder than men, losing 31 percent of their jobs in the first decades of this century. Men lost 23 percent of their jobs during the same period. Manufacturing tends to offer above-average pay and benefits, making these losses especially painful.
Women’s share of manufacturing jobs has remained stagnant, even as the sector started to come back before the pandemic. This is unfortunate, not only for women but for manufacturing employers who have difficulty finding the skilled workers they need to stay competitive.
In the AAUW survey, blue-collar women cited several reasons they find it difficult to thrive in the male-dominated sector. These included workplace cultures that too often tolerate sexual harassment; gender-based gaps in pay and opportunities to advance; and lack of support when they must juggle work and family responsibilities. Women of color said they often felt isolated due both to race and gender.
To address these serious obstacles AAUW recommends that manufacturers:
• Take firm steps to prohibit sexual harassment. Creating clearly defined sexual-harassment policies, instituting complaint procedures, making harassment training in-person and interactive, and conducting bystander awareness training are all needed.
• Ensure equality in pay and promotions. Pay audits, greater transparency and setting current wages without regard to past salary history will help.
• Improve family-friendly policies. Benefits such as paid family and medical leave, flextime help workers balance their tasks at work with those at home and reduce women’s likelihood of leaving their jobs.
• Support training and re-skilling. Increasingly, well-paying manufacturing jobs require a college degree, at a minimum. Companies should create apprenticeship programs for college students and offer tuition reimbursement for employees.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) advances gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy. Its nonpartisan, nonprofit organization has more than 170,000 members and supporters across the United States, as well as 1,000 local branches and more than 800 college and university members. Learn more at aauw.org.