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Expanding the Labor Pool

3/21/2014 4:00:00 PM
Article by Dave Grubb

Last fall I read an article about Elinor Otto. Elinor is 93 years old and still works everyday riveting wing sections for Boeing in Long Beach, California. Elinor has been doing that job since 1942; she was one of tens of thousands of women who replaced men in factories across the country during World War II. Women performed these jobs exceptionally well; jobs that they would have been excluded from prior to the war.

Fast forward to a week ago. I was reading the annual "Manufacturing Salary Survey" in Industry Week magazine and was struck by one particular set of data. First, only 11 percent of the respondents to the survey were female and second, their average compensation was 74 percent of the compensation paid men. I cannot say this salary difference was based on similar jobs, but in the case of these respondents that difference amounted to $29,741.

I was unable to get that information, and the issue it created, out of my head. It forced me to look at the entire issue of labor in our industry, which has left me with more questions than answers. Manufacturers in this country are struggling to fill good, well-paying jobs because of a lack of qualified or even interested workers.

Thinking further about this, I see what appears to be a pattern in our industry. Among my large clients, I see women in all levels of those companies, literally from line workers to plant superintendents, and yes, to presidents. However, in many of my smaller clients the participation of women stops at the more “traditional” functions of clerical work in the office, with some participation in management, but little to no representation on the plant floor.

Why is that? Is it because we fail to see women in those roles simply because of our own paradigms? Is it because we don’t want to deal with women in a male dominated environment? Can we afford to continue to ignore half of the labor pool for such silliness?

It is a well-established fact that women can do any job a man can do, and do it equally well. If you think that is not true, spend some time in Alaska, you will see women doing virtually every job there is.

Long-term readers of my articles know that I am a huge advocate for skills training. There is no reason that training is not equally appropriate for women. I see women doing virtually every job in larger plants, operating the most complex CNC machines, running flat lines and doing assembly work.

The barriers we might "see" are most likely blinders, and not barriers at all. But—introducing women into an all-male environment does present a new set of conditions and those are conditions you must take seriously.

Sexual harassment is real, it is poisonous, and it is corrosive to an organization. To successfully take advantage of the value women can bring to your work force you must first understand the legal, as well as the moral aspects of sexual harassment. If you have not studied or been trained in preventing sexual harassment, you need to begin there, and then you need to do the same training for your entire company. You need to create and maintain a zero tolerance environment in both policy and action.

Employing women at all levels works for thousands of companies across the country; it can work for you. I will leave you with one last thought: women’s pay deserves nothing less than to be equivalent to what you pay men in similar jobs.

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