Company culture matters for women who work in manufacturing. Here's why

Increasing the proportion of women working in the manufacturing industry has been an elusive goal for many companies. An inclusive company culture can help, and this London-based non-profit is giving companies a roadmap for how to do it.

London-based non-profit's report gives manufacturing industry a road map to achieving gender parity

Auto workers on assembly line at Martinrea, Vaughan, Ontario. (Laura MacNaughton/CBC)

Women make up nearly half of Ontario's workforce but only 29 per cent of the province's manufacturing workforce, according to Statistics Canada.

A new report from the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing, a London, Ont., based non-profit that informs the public on new initiatives within the industry, is offering companies a road map on how to boost that statistic. 

The report, published on Tuesday, looks at five companies actively working on achieving gender parity and breaks down successful initiatives and action steps for other manufacturers.

Successful companies, the network found, make gender parity a company-wide effort that's not limited to senior leadership. At their core, the companies are inclusive.

"A big piece of whether women are staying with the company is the culture," said Talissa Watson, a masters of science candidate in management business analytics at Western University's Ivey Business School and a co-author of the report.

Watson said these are companies whose senior leadership are "listening to employees and trying to be proactive in who they hire, so that those new people that come in maintain an inclusive culture that will keep more women in the picture."

Increasing the proportion of women working in the sector has been an elusive goal for many companies.

Women are underrepresented in higher-paying management roles like these but are overrepresented in lower-wage industry segments, the report states. How companies recruit women to manufacturing roles is one part of the problem. 

"Women sometimes aren't seen as competent based on stereotypes, and it's not like women aren't capable" said Eva Kwan, a PhD candidate in industrial organizational psychology at Western University and a co-author of the report. "It's because people have preconceived notions."

Talissa Watson and Eva Kwan, co-authors of the report on gender diversity and Ontario manufacturing, say fostering a culture of inclusivity at every level of a company is important in both attracting and retaining women in manufacturing jobs. (Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing)

In the midst of uncertain economic times, many Canadians are wondering what a post-pandemic economy might look like. Kwan and Watson's gender parity road map gives the industry an idea, they say, of what it should look like.

They suggest that employers need to recognize and minimize their own biases, prioritize work-life balance for employees and foster a culture where an entire company works toward achieving gender parity. 

The elevator cabin manufacturer MAD Elevator, for example, created their own benefit system at the start of the pandemic, paying employees' relatives an amount roughly equivalent to the CERB to cover the cost of childcare and keep employees working. 

They also started a laptop lending program to ease the transition to online learning for employees' children.

Brendan Sweeney, Managing Director of the network, said gender parity doesn't just happen, but is the result of conscious and intentional efforts made by companies that prioritize bringing more women into the industry. 

"It's not going to happen by accident," said Sweeney. "You've got to put the effort in."