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Workforce professionals suggest changes to bring more women into manufacturing

Manufacturing
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Women make up nearly 47% of the American workforce. But the percentage of women working in manufacturing is about 29%, according to a report from international consulting firm Deloitte.

Manufacturing needs more women in leadership positions a panel of human resources professionals said during a panel discussion at the South-Tec Manufacturing Conference in Greenville.

Bringing more women into companies such as BMW in Greer requires focusing students on math, engineering and science, human resources professionals say. (Photo/BMW Manufacturing Co.)“When companies have more women in leadership positions, there is more inclusiveness in those companies,” said Cheryl Thompson, founder of Lead One, Lead All, an organization that promotes bridging the gender gap in manufacturing, and the moderator of the panel discussion. “You really need women in the workplace to identify with the customer base.”

Thompson, a former engineer with Ford Motor Co., said men “want us at the table.”

Getting women into leadership positions within the industry could begin with getting more women involved in engineering, she said. That starts with introducing more students to science, technology, engineering and math careers in high school.

“There is so much technology out there, and everyone wants to work in high-tech fields, but manufacturing offers that now,” said Laura Dewitt, global practice consultant for Kelly Services. “There just has to be education to show people that.”

Lynn Kier, vice president of marketing and communication for Schaeffler Group USA Inc. in Fort Mill, said getting women involved means showing them career options.

“We show the parents that manufacturing isn’t what it once was,” Keir said. “There isn’t just one path to success, there are many paths.”

SME, a group that works to promote the manufacturing industry, recently started a program working with 44 high schools across the country to help educate students, parents and community leaders about manufacturing.

Meghan Shea-Keenan, workforce development program analyst for SME, said the high school program is about showing the benefits of working in manufacturing to high school students.

“Throughout that entire ecosystem, there is that engagement that shows students there are jobs out there and companies do want to hire for those jobs,” Shea-Keenan said.

Panelists said manufacturing companies also can provide mentors, invest in training and create more flexible work policies for all employees to bring more women into the industry.

“The environment has to be more open to diverse policies that work for everyone,” Kier said. “The more diverse the group of people making the policy, the more open and attractive the workplace may be.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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