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Survey results: Career development & gender diversity in manufacturing

Jan. 15, 2020
Amanda Del Buono is joined by Erin Hallstrom, head of Putman Media's Influential Women in Manufacturing recognition program to discuss the results of IWIM's recent Career Development & Gender Diversity survey

Kicking off season two, host Amanda Del Buono is joined by Erin Hallstrom, head of Putman Media's Influential Women in Manufacturing recognition program to discuss the results of IWIM's recent Career Development & Gender Diversity survey, along with the special report that came from it. 


Amanda Del Buono: Welcome to the second season of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce! We’re happy to be back with another great lineup of experts and workforce development topics. 

Before we get started, I wanted to note a few housekeeping items. First thing to note, Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing program is currently accepting nominations for the 2020 class of Influential Women in Manufacturing, so if you know a woman (or women) effecting change in the industry, nominate them now. Nominations are being accepted through March 31, and can be entered at www.influentialwomeninmanufacturing.com

Also with the new season of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce, we’ve launched new social media channels to bring together the community of manufacturing professionals looking to better their workforce development strategies. 

You can keep up with us on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/showcase/manufacturing-tomorrow's-workforce/ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/manufacturingtomorrowsworkforce/

Now, onto today’s show. 

To kick off season two, I’ve invited Erin Hallstrom, head of Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing recognition program, to discuss IWIM’s new gender diversity and career development special report. Erin and I collaborated on this report, which offered an overview on the state of gender diversity and career development in the U.S. manufacturing industry using data that we collected from a survey of the IWIM audience. 

Erin, thanks for taking some time to meet with me today and talk about this new report.

Erin Hallstrom: Hi Amanda, Thank you! And allow me to congratulate you on a second season of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce. 

AD: Thank you. We’re really excited to get some more of our Putman team members involved in the podcast, manufacturing workforce issues affect a lot of us.

Let’s start by explaining what brought about the first special report from IWIM. What was the inspiration? What was IWIM trying to learn from the survey and what are some of the key takeaways? 

EH: We’re at the beginning of our third year of the IWIM Awards right now, but even before we kicked off IWIM originally in late 2017, the group of us that launched it recognized something in what we were reporting: We could see women responsible for a lot of breakthroughs, a lot of creations, a lot of ideation, but they weren’t getting a lot of accolades for it. 

Enter Influential Women in Manufacturing. 

Throughout the nomination process and then writing about the honorees in 2018 and 2019, we also witnessed a trend about career development in manufacturing. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say we also noticed similarities that mirrored in our own career development as well. 

These observations became the foundation for the survey we conducted in 2019 and then the special report that we generated from that. 

Because the IWIM awards -- much like the team -- spanned different manufacturing verticals, we thought we would see if there were any nuances specific to manufacturing, a specific sector or specific gender. 

AD: Right, and to note we did have both male and female responses to the survey, so it wasn’t just focusing on women and women’s issues, it also did take a look at things men were concerned about as well. It was interesting to see some of that overlap in some senses. 

EH: Right, the respondents were predominantly female, but we definitely had, it wasn’t a 50/50 split, but we definitely had a significant percentage of male respondents. So, that was great to see in and of itself.

AD: I thought it was interesting to see the responses of men compared to women, spots where I saw some overlap or spots where they were completely different. What were some of the key differences and similarities you noticed in regards to gender’s impact on career development in manufacturing?

EH: We did this as a blind survey. It was anonymous, we did not capture personal details, such as name, address, phone number. We conducted it in such a way that we could split and divvy up our data points, but we also introduced options for people to write in specific responses.

We were also really conscious when we created the survey to not ask leading or presumptuous questions, and I believe we succeeded. Being a group of women who put the survey together, we didn’t want to launch into this with a ‘woe is me and my uterus’ mentality about what we were asking. 

One result that I found particularly gratifying was that both genders are up against barriers in work-life balance. I think most often what we in the consumer public read and listen to or hear about is issues work-life balance for women, but in this particular survey showed it’s a big barrier for everyone, not just women, men, too. 

It was also very affirming to see how many companies had women in leadership positions. That seems like it should be a no-brainer at this point, but I’m surprised at how many leadership committees I see online or at conferences that have zero women on them. 

Obviously, if everyone is struggling with work/life balance then it stands to reason there should be similar uphill battles with career advancement for everyone, but our anecdotal responses proved otherwise. 

AD: I thought it was interesting. I remember reading a few of them where some gentlemen had noted the distance from their office as a barrier. Even though we think of women as the care-givers of their children, men still want to be close to home, too. And, like this particular respondent had mentioned, career development has to fit between my day job, my home life, and I spend an hour or two commuting every day. It’s just not practical. 

This kind of leads into the next question, but I thought it was interesting that when it came to gender diversity and picking people for the right position that we had both men and women comment that they just want the most qualified person for the job. 

That’s a common response, and I wanted to ask you, people say  “I just want the most qualified person for the job, I don’t care what gender they are,” how did the survey responses support this point of view and what were some cases against it? 

EH: That’s a great question, and something that I know when I was looking at the results when we were putting the report together, that was something I wanted and needed to unpack, myself, especially as someone who covers workforce within the manufacturing industry. 

We definitely saw responses that supported that belief and I understand why people have it. With the labor market being what it is in manufacturing right now, especially in manufacturing, qualified often means legal and available.

But also numerous studies have shown we all carry an inherent bias whether we think we do or not. So, those responses about not caring about gender may feel accurate to that person, but if you look at the landscape of who is getting promoted and the most often, things start to take a turn, and we definitely noticed that in the responses.  

We saw references to trying to break into the ‘old boys club’ or that women in leadership roles were all done for good PR. 

Not surprising to me were the instances where women indicating needing to ‘prove’ themselves among their colleagues while men more often than not in the anecdotal responses didn’t feel they needed to prove anything to anyone. 

AD: I thought that was interesting. I remember one of the anecdotal responses in particular that stuck out to me was a woman who mentioned that her work gets cross-checked more often, and she’d be more than happy to collaborate with people, she gets something done and it seems like they aren’t confident in the work that she’s providing. 

I thought it was interesting from that perspective, that she felt she is qualified, ‘I am qualified, so trust me to get my job done.’

EH: Right. There was one response that stuck out to me because of the confidence behind it when you read it, which is ‘I don’t have to prove myself to anyone, nor will I or do I care to.’ That particular response really did stick out to me, because I think that’s an interesting mentality to have, and maybe because of where I’m at in my career and what you hear and read about so often, you see something like that, and it’s like ‘alright, I applaud you and that kind of confidence to feel that way. 

AD: And you know what? Sometimes that confidence can be a driving factor for some people depending on how you handle it. 

Yeah, that was a point that I thought was really interesting and something that as we’ve done IWIM and MTW over the past year or so, I thought it was important for us to address and really look at what people are really thinking with that. 

As our token millennial here at Putman Media, age is something I always pay attention to. So, age is often spoken of anecdotally in regards to the workforce. A lot of times it’s millennials behave this way, and baby boomers behave this way, and they’re clashing heads. But, what are the key points you’re seeing based on age? I had noticed some spots where I thought there was more overlap than you would think. What did you notice about how different generations view their career development, and are they really as different as they think they are? 

EH: Right, well, as a generation X’er, I’m just sitting back watching the boomers and the millennials fight it out, while I’m exhausted, but more on that in a little bit. 

So yeah, we broke down the responses by age and where people were at in their careers. It wasn’t surprising, I don’t think anyone would be shocked, to see those who were younger or entry level often felt the most stress about developing their careers while those more senior respondents were less concerned. That was the no-brainer aspect of that.

But based on previous podcast episodes that we’ve done and the people we talked to in season one, we know that the younger generations are perfectly positioned for careers in manufacturing especially in light of the trend to go digital. Whether or not the manufacturing companies or younger market understands that aspect, this is where there seems to be a disconnect. “Lack of experience” was most often cited as a barrier to entry for those born between 1981-2000. And I do wonder how many in the young generation looking for careers in manufacturing realize their age is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. Similarly, do these companies realize that you have a younger employee who is probably fresher or more comfortable with the technologies that perhaps your current workforce isn’t as comfortable with. 

So, being in the generation of the 1965-1980 group myself, I’ve heard a lot of great explanations about why we’re a good ‘connector’ generation. We grew up without technology but had to adapt and learn it in our adulthood. It makes us well positioned to explain it or teach it to both the younger and the older generations. That is, of course, if we can get past the stresses we have about taking care of our kids and our parents all in the same house. I think they’re talking about changing our name from Generation X to Generation eXhausted. 

But I think that age group,maybe because I’m in it, it was relatable, everything that I read about it. Also, when you read about the older generation, and I don’t want to prescribe a name to that generation, but those who were born before 1965, they’re more senior in age and roles at their companies, and so as far as career development, many of them are looking at retirement and ‘am I ready to retire?’ which, as we know, is also putting a huge skills gap strain on the whole entire manufacturing labor market. 

AD: Right, I think you touched on a few good points there, because I think, we’re guilty of it here on this podcast, where we talk about the baby boomers a lot, we talk about the millennials a lot, and maybe there should be a bigger conversation about how Generation X can bring together these two and maybe be the liaison that can connect the two generations and help them work with each other to then fill that skills gap, because generation X still has some time in the workforce and it may be time for them to get in some leadership roles and really foster that communication.

EH: Right, I have, again being a generation x’er, those are the articles, whether it’s stuff we produce or external to Putman, that’s the stuff that sticks out to me, so I definitely recognize when it’s talking about that middle generation, which always makes me laugh how often we’re left out. I think generation x is so used to being left out, we now laugh about it, which I think the sense of humor in our generation helps, too. 

AD: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. 

So, we did this survey over several months, and we put together the special report now. After having it sit with you for some time, what data point or fact or nugget did you take away from this that really stuck with you the most?  

EH: I will say in doing Influential Women in Manufacturing and helping out with the Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce podcast, I definitely have covered workforce issues far more in the last few years than I ever did in the 12 years prior being here at Putman. So, I’m definitely more focused on workforce issues and things that crop up. So, a lot of this survey and special report really brought to light, or more confirmed what I’ve been reading in some of the verticals that I’ve covered during my time here, so that was great. 

There’s actually two data points or two things that really stuck out at me, and interestingly enough they had nothing to do with gender, but they were repeated over and over again to the point that that’s why I wanted to mention them. 

The first, was that there almost seems to be a message to companies and their HR Departments,which is to have more compassion for your employees’ career development and invest in leadership training. 

No matter the age or gender of our survey respondents all of them were consistent about feeling as though their companies could have or should have cared more about their career potential within their companies. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding in HR departments or within management that if you train someone for their next career step, then they’ll leave. In reality, people are probably leaving because they didn’t get the career training or the opportunity to evolve into a new role within their company. It may seem chicken or egg, but all of our respondents, the majority who put something down for these kinds of questions were all consistent in this reaction.

Everyone also seemed to feel similarly about mentoring or mentorship as well. I think there’s an awful lot of knowledge out there that’s willing to be shared, but no formal way of sharing it, which I think is a detriment to everyone. 

So, I guess my final parting thought of what data point made the biggest impression was, we do need to tap into and make ourselves comfortable with sharing this kind of data and knowledge and leadership training and developing leadership tracks for people regardless of gender if they’re interested in evolving their career at their company. If they’re not, then you don’t have to worry about it, but you could have a generation x’er, you could have a millennial, you could have a recent high school graduate, so a generation z, who’s like, ‘yes, someday I want to be a manager. HR, can you help me identify the steps of what that looks like? Management training, leadership training, how do I successfully negotiate, or coach?’ I think things like that, regardless of gender, regardless of age, that so many people indicated that was something that they needed. I really think that was a worthwhile point to bring out and to also mention on this podcast.

AD: Yeah, you know in some of the things we’ve read about the millennials, that’s what they want. ‘Invest in me, I will stay if you invest in me and teach me.’ We want to absorb knowledge, and I think that that’s very important. And I think, on that, what I was happy to see was the amount of respondents who said that they were actively pursuing their career development. That’s important that we’re always trying to grow. You never want your employees to end up in a rut, but I thought it was unfortunate that we had a full third of our respondents say that their companies don’t offer any formal leadership development, but they would like them to do so. So, these people are, like you said, they’re begging for investment, like ‘please help me grow, it’s only going to help your company if you help me.’ So, it’s really a win-win - you invest in me, I’ll make more money for you. And it seems like that’s what our respondents were saying. 

Well, I think that was a great overview of the special report. Was there anything else you wanted to mention, Erin? 

EH: I mean, I didn’t cover a lot of specific data points on this podcast. Please go to the website and check it out. You can go to the website, influentialwomeninmanufacturing.com, and download the report straight from there, you don’t have to enter your name, email address. Just go download it and check it out for yourself, there’s a lot of great information in there, and it’s a short read compared to probably most reports of this nature. So, definitely check it out and let us know what you think, we have an email address that’s listed several places on the website, but I’d be curious to know what everybody thinks about the report and what they’ve noticed, too.

AD: Yeah, and thank you to everybody who took the time to respond to our survey. We do many surveys here at Putman Media, and we know that in doing that you all have to take your time our of your busy day to give us your insights, and those are very valuable to us, so we hope you all take a moment to sit down and take a look at the results. There’s some great infographics and stuff in there if you want to do a quick little browse through, but as Erin said, check it out on influentialwomeninmanufacturing.com, drop in a nomination for this year’s award program while you’re there.

For Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce, that’s all we’ve got for you today. Thanks for joining us today, Erin. 

EH: Thanks for having me.

AD: Thanks for listening, we’ll see you again in two weeks! 

For more, tune into Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce.

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