Skip to content
Northern Powerhouse European Union
People, Skills & Talent

Why gender diversity in manufacturing is crucial

International Women's Day 2020


To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, Manufacturing Advisor Rachel Baldry shares her experience of what it’s like to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, and why increasing diversity in manufacturing can boost productivity and solve some of the key challenges facing the sector. 

As a child, my ambition was to become a pilot. I enjoyed maths and physics, having gone to an all-girls school where I wasn’t overly exposed to the damaging stereotype of those being boys subjects. After leaving school and establishing that a career in aviation wasn’t for me, I stumbled upon a degree in manufacturing, engineering and management. I loved how varied the course was – studying topics like product design, mechanics, materials, processes and ergonomics – and I developed a particular interest in the human factors in manufacturing systems. 

After a stint in the nuclear sector where human factors are key to ensuring safety, I joined a management training scheme in manufacturing engineering and logistics at an internationally-recognised adhesives manufacturer. It was the early 2000s, and I was the only woman in my intake. Most of the women working in the company at the time were in the HR department.  

A while later, the company employed its first female shift manager. By then I was a Productivity Improvement Engineer, and it was nice to have someone else on the shop floor I could buddy up with. As a woman I didn’t expect to be treated differently by my co-workers, but I certainly felt that my male colleagues adjusted their normal behaviour when working with me.   

Within a few years I moved on to become a service manager of a team of engineers at one of the world’s biggest lift manufacturers. The lift industry is incredibly male-dominated – all of the engineers were men, and the vast majority of the clients were too. As the lone female it was a difficult job at first, but it very quickly became clear to everyone how much impact a little diversity can have. 

Rachel Baldry, Manufacturing Advisor at the Hub

© This is Engineering

Female noise and vibration engineer designs air purification devices copyright to © This is Engineering

Diversity brings results 

The engineers I worked with were used to a heavy-handed, tough management style. Many were unhappy, didn’t feel supported and were ready to leave. My own management style was more empathetic and collaborative. I started personal development plans and put effort into building relationships with each member of the team. These aren’t female-only traits, but it does show that injecting diversity into a workplace will naturally bring with it new approaches and new ideas. In my case, the effect was transformative: people felt listened to and empowered to make suggestions, staff turnover went down, productivity went up; one engineer who was previously considered a ‘lost cause’ even got promoted.  

I had similar success in another role working in process improvement, where the team I worked with achieved a 20 per cent improvement in Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) within six months – something nobody else had achieved in the business before. I firmly believe this success was down to the different approach that I brought to the project; focusing more on listening to and empowering the machine operators in a way that my predecessors had not.    

Bridging the skills gap 

Things are changing, albeit slowly. By the time I left the lift industry to join the GC Business Growth Hub in 2019, there were noticeably more women coming through as engineering graduates, and the company had even brought on its first female engineering apprentice. 

The timing couldn’t be more crucial. There is a huge skills gap in the UK that needs plugging – it is estimated that nearly 200,000 engineers will be needed annually through to 2024 in order to meet demand, yet women only represent 12 per cent of the engineering workforce. With businesses of all sizes struggling to fill vacancies, and a large proportion of existing skilled workers closing in on retirement, attracting under-represented groups into the profession is vital.  

Part of the challenge is overcoming the cultural barriers that discourage women and young girls from pursuing a future in manufacturing and engineering in the first place. One of the key problems in the past has been the lack of visibility of women in the sector. When the Royal Academy of Engineering analysed over 1,000 Google image search results for ‘engineer’ in 2019, the vast majority depicted a white man in a hard hat. It’s not as if women have never been there – history is littered with brilliant female engineers and innovators, but we just don’t hear enough about them. My personal role model is Dame ‘Steve’ Shirley – a pioneering entrepreneur and Royal Academy of Engineering Fellow who single-handedly built a hugely successful IT business in the 1960s. She began using the name Steve because business letters signed with her real name, Stephanie, were simply being ignored. 

Young female mechanical engineering technician apprentice copyright to © Technicians Make It Happen

Female researchers in conversation during testing copyright to ©BP

Attracting untapped talent 

Today, there is still a lingering perception that STEM subjects are ‘for boys’ and that factories are dirty, grimy, male-dominated places. This is simply not the case; in fact, thanks to the onset of Industry 4.0, the modern shop floor is becoming one of the most exciting and cutting-edge environments to work in 

The digitalisation of manufacturing requires a workforce with varied, transferable skills, which is a great opportunity to get more women into the sector. Businesses should use this opportunity to expand their horizons to a wider talent pool when recruiting – the perfect candidate could be a brilliant problem solver that just hasn’t applied their skills to the shop floor yet, or they might be an expert in another transferable form of management or process. Language is important: there is plenty of research showing that ‘alpha male’ words in job adverts, such as “competitive” or “dominant”, dissuade women from applying 

Manufacturing firms should also look internally for untapped female talent. Female staff working in non-engineering or non-management roles may be interested in transferring to the shop floor and should be supported to do so. Its likely that existing employees have many skills which are not traditionally recognised as ‘engineering’ but can be translated into valuable manufacturing outputs. 

Hopefully what my experience shows is that we all win when there are both women and men in the room. Gender equality is not just a tick-box exercise – it can have a really positive impact on workforce satisfaction, engagement and productivity. My two young daughters are still at the age where they are free to enjoy science and engineering without having to think about gender, and I hope they never have to.  


To find out more about international Women’s Day, visit

To access fully-funded support to help your business develop the skills it needs

Enquire and grow

More insights from the Hub

Quick guide to virtual event networking

Picture of Quick guide to virtual event networking

Virtual events, from small webinars to large scale web-based exhibitions and conferences have been part of the industry for many years. However, their strong dependence on technology in conjunction with the perception of a lack of interactivity made them up until recently a less favorable option for most event organisers and businesses. With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to a worldwide ban on mass gatherings and fast tracking digitalisation, virtual events have been gaining traction.

Even though events have shifted online, networking remains crucial -  as it can lead to increased brand awareness and new client or partner acquisition. As a concept, the term networking usually refers to the act of meeting new contacts, engaging in conversation and exchanging information to establish long-term relationships. Looking at the definition, it is evident that networking isn’t bound to a physical setting and can therefore most definitely also take place in a virtual environment.

To help you ma…


Read more

Making more with less: Small process efficiency improvements that could make a huge difference

Picture of Making more with less: Small process efficiency improvements that could make a huge difference

Environmental business advisor Claire Scott explains how a fresh pair of eyes can uncover simple but effective ways to make huge efficiency savings in the manufacturing process.

More blogs


Read more

How SMEs can prepare for Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone

Picture of How SMEs can prepare for Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone

Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone could be just a year away. Rebecca Chedd, Environmental Business Advisor at GC Business Growth Hub, sets out how businesses should prepare.


Read more

Event Networking Toolkit

Picture of Event Networking Toolkit

In the modern digitally connected world do live events still hold the same authority they used to? The answer is yes! Live events have one great advantage; they give you a chance to meet prospective clients and partners face-to face.

However, whilst most companies recognise and measure the value of events they plan themselves, they often neglect external events that they only attend. This could be attributed to the fact that a majority of these externally-run events, are free networking events which impacts the perception of value that we associate with them. Now if we combine this with the considerably less amount of work required to attend events, as opposed to organising them, it is easy to understand why the two aren’t always held to the same standard.

In any case, setting your expectations lower can only lead to missed opportunities. It’s important to remember that you are dedicating your time which has a monetary value embedded in its core and therefore should always aim to max…


Read more

Share this post