Factory Flaw: The Attrition and Retention of Women in Manufacturing

Harassment, Bias Drive Women Away from Lucrative Jobs

Women are more likely to quit jobs in manufacturing than women in other industries, reflecting a history of sexual harassment, unequal pay and opportunity denied. They are also more likely than men to leave manufacturing jobs, according to a new AAUW study made possible by the support of the Arconic Foundation.

The report, Factory Flaw: The Attrition and Retention of Women in Manufacturing, explores the challenges women face in male-dominated industries and the barriers that hinder their success. The report outlines how employers can build a more competitive workforce by addressing these longstanding issues and creating more pathways for women in the manufacturing fields.

The Findings

U.S. manufacturing shed 4.4 million jobs between 2000 and 2020, mostly in the earlier years. But women, who hold about one in three manufacturing jobs, were hit harder than men, losing 31 percent of their jobs in the first decades of this century, compared to 23 percent lost by men.

Women are underrepresented in higher-paying manufacturing sectors.  Only 17% of workers in the petroleum and coal fields, which pay almost $43 an hour, are women. But women account for more than half of workers in textile jobs, which pay under $20 an hour.

White women earned more on average than Black and Hispanic women. Between 2003 and 2019, Black and Hispanic women’s wages declined relative to their white counterparts. In 2019, Black women earned 78% of what white women workers did— which is down 5 percentage points from 2003—and Hispanic women earned 66% of what white women did—a 4 percentage point decrease.

Sexual harassment is widespread in the manufacturing industry. Women working in manufacturing are more likely to experience sexual harassment than those in women-dominated or even gender-equal sectors. Of those women we surveyed, 68.2% of women of color and 62.6% of white women reported experiencing some form of harassment at their workplace.

Dissatisfaction with family leave policies is key reason women leave manufacturing jobs. Altogether, 69.2% of women surveyed said they were not satisfied with the amount of paid family leave.  This includes both women with children and those without.

Recommendations

To address these obstacles manufacturers must:

  • Take firm steps to prohibit sexual harassment. Creating clearly defined sexual-harassment policies, instituting complaint procedures, making harassment training in-person and interactive, and conducting bystander awareness training are all needed.
  • Ensure equality in pay and promotions. Pay audits, greater transparency and setting current wages without regard to past salary history will help.
  • Improve family-friendly policies. Benefits such as paid family and medical leave, flextime help workers balance their tasks at work with those at home and reduce women’s likelihood of leaving their jobs.
  • Support training and re-skilling. Increasingly, well-paying manufacturing jobs require a college degree, at a minimum. Companies should create apprenticeship programs for college students and offer tuition reimbursement for employees.

The Path Forward

Our findings are a call to action for employers to increase the presence — and power — of women in the manufacturing world.  Not only will women and their families gain from having access to these well-paying jobs, but industry will benefit richly from the skills, talents and diversity that more greater diversity can bring.