Gender balancing the manufacturing shop floor

25 Oct 2021

Gender balancing the manufacturing shop floor

Gender Balance and Diversity within a business is a proven no-brainer, enabling companies to be more innovative, understand their consumer, attract the best talent, achieve higher performance, and the list goes on…

To date, most organisations focusing on Inclusion & Diversity have been in an office-based environment, concentrating on senior leadership and management positions. Inclusive behaviour sets the tone for the culture of the workplace - with the goal of enabling everyone to unleash their full potential.

A manufacturing powerhouse

The UK is a manufacturing powerhouse, taking 9th place out of the global manufacturing nations. Manufacturing accounts for 17.8% of our GDP at £192billion, and 18.1% of our workforce is employed in manufacturing. However, the representation of women in manufacturing is one of the lowest by industry in the UK at just 25%.

The business benefits of Gender Balance on the shop floor are wide-ranging and, in addition to the ones highlighted above, include:


  1. Safety
  2. Quality
  3. Cost
  4. Employee relations


  1. Absenteeism
  2. Employee disputes

Through working with factories to step change the Gender Balance of their workforce, we have seen unplanned absenteeism reduce by up to 30% following an increase in the representation of women from 10 to 20%. In addition, adherence to planned maintenance schedules increased from 0 to 90% in the weeks following the appointment of a female shift supervisor. And as a factory manager in Japan reported “people behave better, there is a less testosterone-fuelled environment - we still have challenging conversations, but without the shouting…”

The journey to an Inclusive and Diverse organisation takes time, structural and behavioural biases will need to be identified, processes and policies amended to ensure equality, all before this translating into recruitment and promotion appointments.

Recruitment to accelerate change

Job openings are usually created as organisations grow or as people are promoted or retire. Many people ask, ‘how fast can we move the needle?’ In my experience in a large organisation, shifting the gender representation at leadership levels 1%+ a year is impressive going. This can be accelerated through targeted recruitment and talent pool management, although this needs to be sourced from a sustainable pipeline.

Within the manufacturing sector, however, staff turnover is 17.6% vs the UK average of 15%, and so there is an opportunity to shift the composition of the organisation faster. This is coupled with the aging population of the manufacturing workforce, where those ready to retire outnumber those joining.

There are many structural, societal, and behavioural barriers to women working in manufacturing, all of which present their own challenges. However, none are insurmountable.

As with all challenges, a deep understanding of the root of these obstacles, coupled with a clear plan, commitment, and governance processes in place to oversee the change, can enable results and progress.

We utilise the following approach:

  1. The Facts – Where are you today?
    • What is the pervading culture, mindset, and attitudes within your organisation? Assess this through structured conversations with employees, surveys, focus groups, interviews etc.
    • What is the Diversity of your workforce today, by level and by department? Who is joining or being promoted or leaving your organisation over time? Identify the systemic and behavioural biases at each step of the employee cycle.

  1. Make a plan – Where do you want to go?
    • Clear vision and elevator pitch – simple and bespoke to your organisation.
    • Accountability – what is everyone’s role in achieving the vision, channel it into objectives and reward progress.
    • Solution focussed – identify and remove roadblocks to progress.
    • Communication – an omnichannel approach, everyone needs to be in the know.

  1. Upskill for success
    • What are the key skills/behaviours required to be inclusive to all? Identify these and embed them into upskilling opportunities.
    • This is not a “one and done” conversation, ensure knowledge is refreshed and updated.

  1. Make it stick – embed it within the DNA

Some examples of how to embed Inclusive ways of working into the shopfloor DNA include:

  • Create one-point lessons on effective listening and embed into ongoing and new starter training.
  • Enable participative, not consultative decision making, change from individual actions to team tasks in all action planning sessions.
  • Visibly eliminate waste the consumer doesn’t value, e.g. stop producing factory booklets prior to HQ visits.
  • During factory visits, shift from formal presentations to Q&A sessions, to ensure everyone has a voice.
  • Empower operators to implement suggestions for operations improvements (spend under £250 does not need pre-approval) all other spend handled through the usual procedure.
  • Leaders constantly debate the values of Inclusion and leverage differences with all operators, role modelling the keystone behaviours of inclusion and challenging others to act.


Please contact us if you would like to discuss how to gender balance your manufacturing workforce.