Take a look around. How many women are currently working at your company? A recent report by the APICS Supply Chain Council shows if you’re in the manufacturing business, probably not very many. Their latest report, Minding the Manufacturing Gender Gap: How manufacturers can get their fair share of talented women, produced in conjunction with the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, explores why manufacturing is struggling when it comes to narrowing the gender gap. It’s based on a survey of more than 600 female professionals who predominately work in the manufacturing industry, highlighting their personal perspectives on how companies can do a better job of recruiting, retaining and advancing women. With the industry expected to see a worker shortfall topping two million in the next decade, the gender gap has finally become a critical issue for many. Women currently represent nearly half of the total U.S. labor pool (and are expected to overtake men any day now), but when it comes to manufacturing, they make up less than a third of the workforce. So what exactly is going on? “Make way for women not because it’s good manners… do it because it’s good business and could help drive improvements to the bottom line.” Taken from the report, the above quote isn’t just a nice saying—it’s fact. The report notes hiring more women leads to improved public perception, strengthened corporate social responsibility reputation, and investor perception – all of which can help a company meet and exceed shareholder expectations. What’s more, companies with a higher number of women on the board or in top management positions frequently experience better financial performance, including higher returns on equity, higher valuations, and higher payout ratios. Other benefits of hiring women outlined include increased innovation, improved engagement levels, and enhanced team performance and collective intelligence. Since there’s obviously no good reason for manufacturing not to want to see an increase in women in the workforce, the real question is, what needs to happen to make that a reality? The first step is recruitment. Women need to know manufacturing represents a viable career choice, and right now that’s an area where many companies are failing. The survey results included in the report show 30% of respondents feel their company’s recruitment efforts toward women are poor or very poor, with 65% noting their company does not have an active recruitment program targeted specifically toward women. Survey results also show a strong majority, 53%, believe the school system (K-12) does nothing to encourage female students to pursue a manufacturing career, with a further 35% saying the education system neither encourages nor discourages it as a career choice. Even with a targeted recruitment effort and increased awareness at the educational level, more needs to be done to overcome the perception that manufacturing is a man’s world. Keeping in mind the majority of respondents are already employed in the industry, 30% said if they were to do it all over again, they wouldn’t choose a career in the manufacturing industry. On the plus side however, more than half say they’ve seen a positive change in attitude toward female professionals over the past five years. So what motives women to stay or go? It’s a lot more than money. In fact, 44% of women ranked challenging or interesting assignments as their most important career priority, with 40% citing attractive pay and another 26% a good work-life balance. Rounding out the top five were company culture and career progression opportunities. Poor working relationships, lack of promotion opportunities, low income, no work-life balance, and lack of challenging assignments were all reasons women suggested they might flee the manufacturing industry. The dreaded double standard is also hindering the development of manufacturing as a female-friendly career. Two-thirds of respondents say there’s still a big difference when it comes to performance standards among men and women, with three-quarters believing standards are higher for women. Seventy percent of the women surveyed also feel they still make less than their male counterparts do. As the report notes, “A cultural change begins in the C-suite and must be woven into the fabric of corporate strategy.” That means companies and employees at all levels need to be more aware of real and perceived bias toward women and take the necessary steps to correct them. Paint a more positive image of the industry, provide better education about possible career paths, and foster the development and growth of women already in the talent pool. Those are the ways manufacturing can mind the skills gap.