Why Women Should Consider Careers in Manufacturing: Industry Insights 

Today’s post is part of our Industry Insights series. It features a conversation between Kylene Zenk, industry fellow for manufacturing at UKG, and Magda Dexter, senior vice president of HR and communication at Saint-Gobain North America. Below, they discuss the current state of manufacturing — given the results of the UKG Workforce Institute’s new manufacturing study — with a specific focus on women in manufacturing. 

Kylene Zenk: What are the common misconceptions that women have about working in the manufacturing industry?
Magda Dexter: That’s a very important question, thanks for asking. Some of the most common questions on the minds of women who are considering a career in manufacturing have to do with the work environment. This is not the same industry that it was 10 and 20 years ago. Women often wonder about the requirements of the job, and whether it is a place that they see themselves working. Today’s manufacturing workplace is a combination of automation, robotics, and skilled and unskilled labor. It’s an exciting and ever-changing industry with a place for everyone, at every skill level.

KZ: How has Saint-Gobain made progress to build a more inclusive culture and increase women’s representation across the organization?
MD: As with any facet of company culture, creating and encouraging a sense of belonging in the workplace begins with people. Building the best teams in a diverse and inclusive workplace is embedded in the global strategy of Saint-Gobain. When we designed our employee value proposition, we made a conscious effort to include all groups we want to see in our workplace — those that are here today and those that we are actively working to recruit. By focusing on common barriers to entry and sharing the experiences of the women who work here, we are providing insights into the career opportunities to appeal to the women who may not otherwise consider applying for a role in manufacturing.

KZ: What specifically has Saint-Gobain done to meet the industry’s diversity challenges head on to support its women employees, set a standard for inclusion in manufacturing, and ensure more women see a place for themselves in this exciting and challenging industry?
MD: Many of our management and senior-level positions have been, and continue to be, held by women. As people, we need to see others like us doing the roles that we aspire to have ourselves, to believe that we can achieve what we dream. These role models represent a community of incredibly smart, innovative women within Saint-Gobain who offer mentoring and support for other women employees in the organization, to help them fulfill their career aspirations.

As part of our multipronged approach to improve inclusion, Saint-Gobain requires that all senior leaders and individual business group leaders participate in inclusion trainings, including unconscious-bias training. These trainings help uncover both the macro and micro ways employees express gender bias in the workplace and are a proven and effective tool for helping to eliminate the ways biases manifest in day-to-day interactions.

Among many ways we support the professional development and career advancement of our women employees, we have built a robust internal resource group for women called the SG Women’s Network. Over the last nine years, the group has grown to include 10 regional chapters across North America, making it our largest and most active employee resource group (ERG) in size and scope. The group has achieved extraordinary outcomes related to empowering women through leadership development, mentoring, networking, and community outreach, and that sets a standard for ERGs within the industry.

KZ: What role does HR technology play in helping you build a more inclusive culture?
MD: Adopting new, innovative solutions and ways of working are key to ensuring that your organization continues to nurture and grow a diverse and inclusive culture.

Technology helps to streamline processes and gives us tools to improve the employee experience. For example, we are partnering with UKG to launch a new time and attendance governance (TAG) system that makes it easy for employees to track their work hours. And because we are launching this in all of our manufacturing locations, it creates a consistent process for all Saint-Gobain employees. So, now employees can work at any Saint-Gobain manufacturing site and the process will always be the same.

Employees receive many trainings in their first days of employment with the company. We are mapping more of the career journey for Saint-Gobain employees, to provide a clear and consistent employee onboarding experience that helps them feel confident and well-informed from the start of their careers. Many of these experiences are delivered through digital platforms leveraging HR technology. The manufacturing industry is increasingly more digital, and, as the world of technology changes, so does the experience at work.

KZ: From your perspective as a HR professional, what can other manufacturing companies do to help inspire future women in this field, remove barriers of entry, and close the opportunity gap for women? 
MD: We’re making progress as an industry to encourage more women to pursue careers in manufacturing, but there is still much more work to be done. Getting started could be as simple as getting involved in our local communities through volunteering or offering a mentoring program for women employees to support their career development. Our employees are our greatest ambassadors, and the more opportunities we create to build relationships, provide support, and answer questions, the more we can encourage women to explore the career potential that exists here.

Manufacturing organizations should also be evaluating their hiring and recruiting practices, to remove any unconscious bias and advise the business on programs and opportunities that support attracting more diverse candidates to the organization. At Saint-Gobain, we led an internal effort to assess and rewrite more inclusive job descriptions and redesign certain job requirements, and we have already begun to see an increase in applications from women candidates. This critical step in the progression of our inclusive hiring and recruiting strategy is helping lay the foundation for future change.

KZ: What advice would you give to other women who are interested or thinking about pursuing a career in manufacturing?
MD: We only regret the things in life we did not try. There are many rewarding opportunities to build a career in the manufacturing field, and it is one of the few industries that you can start at an entry-level position and build a rewarding and fulfilling career. This is much more than a job, and, if you are looking for a place to start, explore our open roles at Saint-Gobain