Embracing Change: The Evolution of Leadership in Manufacturing


Embracing Change: The Evolution of Leadership in Manufacturing

by Allison Grealis, Founder and President, Women in Manufacturing Association

In the realm of manufacturing, leadership is evolving, with women and young professionals taking on pivotal roles. As founder and president of the Women in Manufacturing Association (WiM), I've witnessed this transformation firsthand. Thirteen years ago, WiM embarked on reshaping the industry, leading to remarkable progress in leadership diversity. Over the past decade, there has been a steady rise in women's representation in manufacturing, evidenced by a U.S. Census Bureau analysis showing growth in every working-age category until 2020. Our recent Career Advancement Survey with Xometry reveals that one in four women now hold leadership positions—a significant stride toward diversity and inclusion. However, challenges persist, urging companies to proactively attract, retain, and advance female talent.

Successful companies recognize that diversity in leadership goes beyond representation; it's about leveraging a range of perspectives and experiences to drive innovation and profitability. Numerous studies, including McKinsey’s Diversity Matters report, consistently show that companies with diverse leadership teams and boards of directors outperform their homogeneous counterparts. Embracing diversity is not just a matter of social responsibility; it's a strategic advantage that leads to success in today's competitive business landscape. Additionally, collaborative leadership, particularly adept at navigating challenges in fast-paced, technology-driven environments, is essential. Women excel in fostering collaborative environments, leveraging diverse perspectives to drive innovation. Companies embracing collaborative leadership tap into workforce potential, allowing them to achieve greater market prosperity.

But what does it take to attract and retain today’s workforce? Flexibility and professional development are key. Our survey with Xometry indicates that 76% of employees prioritize flexible work schedules. Flexibility not only boosts satisfaction but also supports work-life balance, crucial for retaining top talent. Even small to mid-sized companies can embrace flexibility through unique scheduling options like job sharing and remote work.

Manufacturing's evolving nature also demands highly adaptive skills, crucial for future success. A recent study by EY and Oxford Saïd Business School underscores the importance of adaptive skills in organizational transformation. This means that professional development opportunities are vital, reflected in our Xometry survey respondents' emphasis on access to skill-building. By investing in employee growth and skill development, organizations demonstrate their commitment to fostering personal and professional advancement, a strategy underscored by EY’s report revealing that companies prioritizing human-centered transformations are 2.6 times more likely to achieve success.

In addition to flexibility and professional development, employees—especially millennials and Gen Z—are increasingly drawn to companies with strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Sustainability, environmental stewardship, and community engagement are no longer optional; they're integral to attracting and retaining talent in today's competitive job market.

At WiM, we're committed to empowering female leaders in manufacturing. Through our programs and initiatives, we provide women with the skills, resources, and support they need to thrive in leadership roles. Recognizing that diversity, inclusivity, and collaboration are the cornerstones of successful manufacturing leadership, we advocate for companies to prioritize initiatives that empower women, embrace flexibility and professional development, and prioritize corporate social responsibility. We’re charting a course towards a brighter future for manufacturing leadership, where innovation, diversity, and inclusion thrive.

To learn more about a membership with WiM, visit womeninmanufacturing.org or contact membership@womeninmfg.org.