We all know good apprentices and apprentice candidates are difficult to find. Are you overlooking a significant part of the population when you seek and recruit potential employees? Would you be surprised to learn that extremely talented and qualified apprentices have been told directly by some employers that they "do not hire women for the toolroom?"
Women are underrepresented in manufacturing, especially in the higher skilled precision metalworking positions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, women comprise 7.5 percent of all precision metalworkers and 6.3 percent of machinists.
Chicago Women in Trades, a not-for-profit organization founded to help women overcome the hurdles of obtaining skilled positions in the traditionally male-dominated trades, has identified several of these barriers:
- Discrimination in recruiting, hiring, retaining and advancing women.
- Inequitable training practices. Less hands-on training time is given to women compared to men.
- Awareness and availability. Information about nontraditional careers is limited. From an early age, many girls are socialized in limited roles and expectations. Girls and women have limited opportunities to learn about tools and mechanical operations.
- Safety. Equipment and protective gear, for example, might be poorly adjusted or ill-fitting.
- Sexual harassment. Women experience sexual harassment by unwanted physical contact, comments, posters of half-dressed women and sexual assault.
- Isolation and lack of support. A woman is often the only female in her department; families, friends, supervisors and co-workers are often unsupportive.
According to the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science (IWITTS), programs have shown that women are interested in nontraditional occupations when they are actively recruited. Recruitment techniques include presentations by female role models and current women students in trades, recruitment flyers that include photographs of women and their testimonials, hands-on opportunities targeted toward women and information about salaries and career ladders.
Be proactive in recruiting qualified women for apprenticeships and other skilled positions. Provide information to your local community college, women's program or technical training center. Invite girls' and women's groups for tours and career information just as you would any group of students or other potential employees.
Make sure your work environment and the behavior of your employees fosters a "friendly" place to work. The attitude and behavior of the owner, CEO or other member of management toward these "nontraditional workers" in the workplace set the tone for the company. Set the right tone. Walk through your facility. Look on the walls. Are there pictures or calendars that don't belong in the workplace? Get rid of them. They are offensive and contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment.
Be sure that all employees understand that yours is an equal opportunity workplace. If your policy is to promote from within, be sure that applies to everyone. Consider all applicants for a position. Check your assumptions about your employees and employee candidates—are they based on gender-specific stereotypes of behavior, whether female or male? Today's lean manufacturing environment requires maximum recognition and use of the skills and talents of all employees. Don't make the mistake of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such violations fall under the jurisdiction of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. The EEOC rules apply to all companies with 15 or more employees (in some states the rules apply for companies with only one employee).
Facilitate mentoring opportunities—this is good advice to increase retention among all employees.
Finally, make it your goal to intentionally change the face of your workforce. You might be surprised at the talent and skills you find out there if you go looking for them. There are tradeswomen groups across the United States—all willing to provide support in employee diversification efforts. To find one near you, contact the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau or go to www.tradeswomen.net/otnlinks.html.