Report: Women Key to Addressing Manufacturing Labor Shortage


Recruiting and retaining women in manufacturing is an important step toward tackling the sector’s labor shortage according to a new report.

The Manufacturing Experience: Closing the Gender Gap, produced by the Manufacturing Institute and Colonial Life, explores best practices for addressing workplace diversity. 

Researchers said prioritizing a diverse workplace is key to attracting workers, improving productivity and employee retention, and growing a company’s bottom line.

“Women represent the largest untapped talent pool that manufacturers cannot ignore,” MI president Carolyn Lee said. 

“To address the workforce shortage and remain competitive as an industry, manufacturers need to expand their talent pools by bringing in more diverse and underrepresented candidates—and this latest report gives us a blueprint on how.” 

Labor Shortage

A recent National Association of Manufacturers survey found that over three quarters of manufacturing leaders listed attracting and retaining workers as a primary business challenge.

CBIA’s 2022 Connecticut Manufacturing Report found that 87% of manufacturers reported difficulty finding and/or retaining employees, with 44% saying the lack of skilled applicants is the greatest obstacle to growth.

The MI report sees an increase in women in manufacturing as a major opportunity, with women currently representing just 29% of the sector’s workforce in the U.S. 

Female manufacturing employment, 2010–2022. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Raising the number of women in the manufacturing sector by 6% would be enough to fill almost every one of the 746,000 open jobs in manufacturing,” Lee said.

The Manufacturing Institute’s 35×30 program targets increasing representation in the industry to 35% by 2030 through shifting perceptions and highlighting more women as role models.

By raising the percentage to 35%, the sector would add 800,000 more female manufacturing employees. 


Researchers identified three areas for improvement to increase female participation in manufacturing.

The first is childcare.

Nearly half (49%) of employers said childcare is the biggest challenge for female employees compared to 8% of men.

The top issues in childcare are cost (43%) and availability (27%).

One respondent said there is “an opportunity to make strides in this space by helping to make childcare more affordable and available.”

The report suggests partnerships to add childcare offerings, including adding childcare facilitites at manufacturing sites.

“If our parents can’t go to work because they can’t get childcare, we’re not going to have the workers we need,” CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said. 

“The workers that our businesses need to get their product and services out the door to grow our economy in Connecticut, to create jobs in Connecticut.”

Gov. Ned Lamont recently proposed a mix of state and federal resources to increase funding for childcare, including offering employers tax credits to help employees defray costs.

Workplace Flexibility

Researchers also recommend workers increase workplace flexibility.

More than half (58%) of the survey respondents felt increasing worker flexibility helped them attract and retain employees.

When ranking the top policies related to workplace flexibility, female respondents chose telecommuting, hybrid work, and part-time options.

One respondent noted adding workplace flexibility policies “better accommodates school or childcare schedules,” particularly among women.

The respondent added that “having more women in senior roles at the company helps focus the need for such flexibility.”

Women in Leadership

Connecting and elevating female manufacturers is another critical step, according to the report.

Researchers encouraged businesses to promote more women to leadership positions.

As one respondent said, “when you see it, you can be it.”

Another respondent touted a program called “WIN +5,” where every new female employee is connected to five female sponsors.

“The engagement has led to many promotions at the company,” the report said.

“It has been important for women to engage with other women, who can often understand and empathize with the work and life struggles each might face.”

‘Success and Development’

Overall, researchers said a diverse manufacturing workforce leads to a stronger company.

“While it may not be a surprise that childcare availability and flexibility are top challenges for women, these latest findings make it abundantly clear that childcare and flexibility are issues we cannot ignore if we are going to close the skills gap in manufacturing,” MI vice president of strategic engagement and inclusion AJ Jorgenson said. 

“Our industry should look at this as an opportunity to provide real solutions that better allow our workforce to manage both professional and personal responsibilities.”

Other tactics employers said they are using to recruit women include offering more competitive wages, creating inclusive cultures, open communication and a zero-tolerance harassment policy. 


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