Women in Manufacturing: Communication Needs Improvement

Patricia Hume, Chief Executive Officer

What do women in manufacturing think about the business they’re in?

It’s not something we hear a great deal about, which is perhaps not surprising. Manufacturing is a male-dominated industry, after all. For half a century women have represented around 30% of the US manufacturing workforce, peaking at 33% in 1990, according to the US Census Bureau (USCB).

By number, most female employees are found in production, transportation, and material moving. They are assemblers and fabricators, says the USCB, inspectors and testers, among other roles.

But, proportionately, women enjoy far greater representation in the sales and office-based roles of manufacturing companies, where they are in the majority, holding 51.7% of the roles.

Get the full report

So it’s important to know what they think. To mark International Women’s Day 2022, I wanted to share some insights from our recent Product Communication 2022 research report. We surveyed over 500 manufacturing professionals from a range of industries, including Aerospace and Defense, Automotive, Space, Electric Vehicles, Autonomous Vehicles, to understand the challenges associated with product-related communication and knowledge transfer.

Our respondents matched the USCB demographic data, with women accounting for 28% of responses. But there was some interesting variation by sector (we did not set out to measure gender balance in industries, so this is not conclusive).

For example, women accounted for just 21% of our respondents in the Aerospace & Defense sector, compared to 35% in the emerging Space Technology sector, and 32% in the automotive sector.

Overall, the data was clear: 71% of female employees believe there is room for improvement in product communication workflows, and the same proportion believe documentation challenges at their organization are getting harder to manage as the company grows.

Product Communication 2022 - Understanding Problems with Documentation and Knowledge Transfer in Manufacturing. Get the full report here

97% of female respondents said they had seen products or projects hit by errors or delays as a result of documentation being late, inaccurate, or unclear, while 70% of women said they had seen similar outcomes as a result of difficulty collaborating on content. 43% said outdated documentation had led to delayed or missed sales opportunities.

Women are more acutely concerned about bottlenecks associated with the creation of product documentation, with 65% of female respondents saying this is a frequent problem at their organization compared to just 51% of male respondents.

However, 1 in 3 female manufacturing employees believe their organization is not actively seeking ways to improve documentation workflows and processes, which suggests a huge opportunity for improvement if the problems these women are identifying can be highlighted and understood at leadership level.

So what does success look like for women in manufacturing? Well, with 37% of female respondents saying the applications used in documentation workflows are unsuited to the task, 33% saying there are too many applications involved, and 39% saying there are too many people involved, the data suggests women want to see more autonomy and efficiency in these crucial knowledge transfer workflows.

More than 2 in 3 of female respondents said it would be beneficial to use a single application for the creation of all types of product content, while 62% said it would be beneficial if all collaboration were also to happen in one place. Meanwhile, 66% said they believed it would be beneficial if the company was able to track and measure document access and usage.

With documentation creation and consumption routinely involving collaboration between separate departments, we asked respondents how well different disciplines such as engineering and marketing professionals were able to collaborate. Here, female respondents were perhaps more optimistic than their male counterparts, with 30% saying there were no difficulties, compared to only 20% for male respondents.

In many instances, however, female and male respondents were closely aligned in terms of the challenges they identified ,and the damage being wrought on the business by the knock-on effects of those challenges.

As in any sector, women have an important role to play in manufacturing and it is essential we understand their perspective on the challenges companies face. A clear takeaway from this research is that female employees believe the manufacturing  industry faces a defining challenge when it comes to poor communication and product documentation, which is intricately connected to the success of the entire organization. And when the processes in place break down, the result is self-inflicted damage that could - and should - have been avoided.