During World War II, “Rosie the Riveter” represented the United States government’s efforts to encourage women to go to work in order to aid the war effort. The campaign inspired a surge of women in manufacturing, and between 1940 and 1945, the number of women in the American workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent. By 1945 nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home, with the aviation industry seeing the greatest growth in female workers. To many, Rosie’s iconic image — sleeves rolled up, steely gaze of determination — not only represents women joining the workforce, but also women overcoming adversity in the workplace.
Earlier this year former Mohawk Rubber Company splicer, band builder and cutting machine operator from 1942 to 1945, Anna Hess spoke to 130 women at The Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead Awards. She spoke about the impact Rosie had on inspiring female talent and she shared how her mother’s willingness to join the workforce and her father’s openness influenced her own ability and desire to work. As she spoke, her own impact was evident. The hundreds of women (and men) in the audience were inspired to make a difference and empower a new generation to join the modern manufacturing workforce.
This matters. Women are still underrepresented in an industry that has so much to offer. And unleashing the potential of female talent will reap big rewards for families, industry and the country’s economy.
Research shows that gender diversity benefits manufacturing by bringing an improved ability to innovate and overall increased profitability. Manufacturers therefore have a strong incentive – even a fiscal mandate – to attract women to the industry. Women want challenging career opportunities and a workplace culture that addresses work/life flexibility. And employers who understand this duality will go a long way towards recruiting and retaining women.
There are a few steps manufacturers can make to improve their diversity efforts:
- Increase visibility of women leaders: We cannot aspire to what we don’t see. Female role models need to be visible at all levels, with customers and colleagues, and as role models for women and men. To move the needle on diversity in the workplace, senior leaders should be aligned on increasing female leaders a business priority.
- Promote personal development: Women ranked opportunities for challenging and interesting assignments as a top motivator for staying in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers investing in personal and professional career development will help keep women engaged, motivated and committed.
- And finally, showcase modern manufacturing: Manufacturing is a dynamic, high-tech industry that is moving the world forward as we innovate and develop products from medicines to airplanes. Manufacturing Day on October 6 is an ideal way to demonstrate to the community how it’s making a difference and building the future.
Rosie opened the door of opportunity for women in industry. The future for women in manufacturing is bright, and with the support of leaders in the industry, more and more women are walking through that door.