Tell us whether you accept cookies

We use cookies to collect information about how you use Made Smarter. We use this information to make the website work as well as possible and improve our services.

It has been three decades since I started working in the manufacturing sector. Today, it’s almost completely unrecognisable from back then. The amount of progress is incredible.

Here, I provide some valuable recommendations for women that are considering entering the industry.

Register now to find out how technology can change your manufacturing

Government-backed programmes like Made Smarter are shaping the future too, showing how central digital technologies are to growth and efficiency. Their structure alone demonstrates how core women are – our monthly meetings are held by myself (the Chair) and Donna Edwards (the Programme Director), with an approximate 50/50 blend of females and males sitting at the table.

Andrea Thompson, Managing Director for Europe & International Programmes at BAE Systems
The changing landscape of women in manufacturing
  • The past

    When I first finished school in the early 90s, I was one of very few women going into the automotive industry – particularly the manufacturing side of it. Women’s interest in the sector just wasn’t there back then.

    I worked on the manufacturing shop floor, amongst mostly unionised and older males. The facilities, machinery and processes were very different too. Running a manufacturing business was incredibly manual – involving Excel spreadsheets, lots of paper, and counting how many pieces had been made or processed. Data analysis was manual too. It was another world.

  • The present

    Today, women are empowered. There’s a much higher percentage of females in manufacturing, and they can be found in all ranks. They’re on the shop floor, working with machinery, in R&D, and in management and senior leadership positions. Women are everywhere now – not to the level that they need to be, by any means, but they are there.

    Besides these cultural changes, manufacturing has shifted from a process perspective too. No longer do we have to manually count the number of products made – instead, we analyse the information given to us and use it to figure out ways of being more efficient. A completely different skill set is required. Women have this – they bring data analytical skills, along with a forward-thinking, strategic approach.

    Previously, these businesses were very much led and run by men with ‘Type A’ personalities. ‘Group thinking’ was a recognised attribute. But fast-forward 30 years, and there are both males and females with ‘Type A’ and ‘Type B’ personalities. They challenge one another and collaborate. Diversity of thought and experiences are now treasured skills. This wasn’t even a possibility all those years ago.

  • The future

    If we skip to 2030, I expect we’ll see an even higher percentage of women in manufacturing, especially considering that more young females are taking STEM subjects at A-level and university. Although women will still secure roles at all levels of an organisation, I anticipate that many of them will be made-to-hire as the pipeline becomes more mature.

    These new hires will lead to even more diverse-thinking conversations too. I’ve noticed that there is already a growing number of amazing, and very confident, young women coming into the industry. They bring a different perspective, and a growth in their numbers can only be a good thing.

    This is especially important given that they haven’t grown up in our history. And so, they not only have a new baseline of manufacturing knowledge and skills, they’re also able and expect to voice their opinions. They stand up in front of any audience and make suggestions, and challenge those at any level. It’s today’s normal, and it’s so exciting to see.

  • Recommendations for tomorrow’s women in manufacturing

    I can only hope that all females have such confidence in our sector. However, I recognise that there are still many preconceptions to overcome. So, I want them to know that there are no barriers ahead of them – you just need the desire, the determination, and the capability. You need to aim high.

    Don’t let preconceptions of the past discourage you. You are your own driving force to get on that pathway into the industry.

    I also recommend that you do your research. Compare the different aspects of the industry, see what’s out there, and build up your network so that you can lean on them both now and in the future.

  • The industry’s next steps

    The industry has realised that education and experiences are key. Females need to see that manufacturing isn’t all about oil, dirt, metal and men – they need to experience what it is actually like.

    In fact, it’s so far removed from how things were back in the 90s. Technology is partly to thank for this. Innovations, and a greater demand for skills that just weren’t needed back then, are opening up opportunities for women. Technology can make factory environments more appealing, and routes to career progression are now numerous and varied.

    BAE Systems, of which I am Managing Director for Europe & International Programmes within our Air Sector, is helping to change preconceived notions of manufacturing through graduate schemes and apprenticeships.

    Government-backed programmes like Made Smarter are shaping the future too, showing how central digital technologies are to growth and efficiency. Their structure alone demonstrates how core women are – our monthly meetings are held by myself (the Chair) and Donna Edwards (the Programme Director), with an approximate 50/50 blend of females and males sitting at the table.

    The programme’s North West pilot is a fantastic opportunity for SMEs in the region, giving them the support and incentive they need to upskill their workforce and increase their technology usage. Made Smarter gets to understand the particular needs of an organisation, and tailors their training and resources to help them implement digital tools for long-term transformation.

    Manufacturing has a fantastic future. It’s clear to see that all diversity will drive amazing developments in our industry – not just gender diversity.

Register with Made Smarter
Find out how Made Smarter can support your digital journey.
Register
Explore More
View all