Michigan manufacturing needs women -- all the way up the corner office

On the day Mary Barra was named CEO of General Motors, there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about research on men’s and women’s brains.

The investigators attached sensors to the heads of both men and women and followed their thought processes. In women’s brains it was right to left and back again whereas in the men’s it was concentrated in a small area. The study authors suggested that women, therefore, are better at multitasking than men. When I saw this conclusion I said, “Duh, I learned this from a mother, sister and now wife.” This relates to multitasking, relationships, collaboration and more, which are key characteristics of what you might call a coach leader.

Manufacturing is undergoing a renaissance in America, as in other parts of our very connected world. We often hear about so-called “advanced manufacturing,” which implies we have both old and new today. But the fact is, if you are manufacturing anything profitably, you are using advanced manufacturing technology with a highly skilled workforce. Manufacturing today is very high-tech and important, not just because of the direct employment but also because of the large number of jobs supported by manufacturing.

For an auto manufacturer, the economic multiplier is about 10, meaning that for every job at an auto manufacturer there are 9 other jobs tied to it. These are in suppliers to the manufacturer and spin-off jobs in the economy – supermarkets, doctors, restaurants and more. (That really cool Wall Street job so many parents would like their kids to have has a multiplier of about 2. The message is clear; we have to be great at making things.)

One of the most significant challenges we face in manufacturing is the development of the highly skilled workforce for today and tomorrow. This issue is not unique to manufacturing. In fact, with the retirement of baby boomers and their smaller following generation, we will be short about 10 million skilled workers in five years, and about 30 million in 15; a truly challenging problem that is actually worse in other countries.

At the same time we are undergoing a business-model change of immense proportions, and one of the most important shifts is from the king leader to the coach leader. The king is officially dead as the coach leader is necessary to deal with the complexity in today’s world, and where great performance of the team is absolutely required.

As we move from kings to coaches we could also think of the shift as from a masculine to more feminine leadership style. Men and women who played team sports tend to have an ability to recognize the importance of the team rather than the individual. The coach leader has little difficulty in giving responsibility as well as the authority to execute a task whereas the king leader wants to make the decisions.

In another recent Wall Street Journal article, it is was pointed out that the number of women employed in manufacturing is actually declining at the same time the leadership traits of women are increasingly needed in today’s team-based manufacturing. If we look at engineering, for example, as one of the key disciplines required in manufacturing, we find that the number of women studying engineering is still about 25 percent, even as the fraction of college graduates in general is increasingly female. Furthermore, the female engineer is far more likely to be studying bio-med or environmental disciplines. This suggests that we have a problem: How can we attract more young women to careers in manufacturing?

It is important to note that manufacturing today is much more than people working on an assembly line putting a product together. The skills required include assembly workers (although robots are doing more and more) but also skilled trades, technicians, engineers from many fields, designers, financial experts, sales and marketing people and much more. The brawn of the past is being replaced by brains and brawn for today and tomorrow.
The bottom line is that we have work to do.

In particular, we need to do a much better job of attracting young women to the amazing opportunities for them in this field.

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Sat, 01/03/2015 - 12:14am
Mr. Cole is saying the same old stereotyping with a different pitch. He claims the stereotype is true based on how a woman’s brain electrons fire differently. He wants more women simply to have more women. In reality there are two factors in who is important to any organization; the knowledge and skills they possess and how they use it. It isn’t who a person is; it has to be about the results they deliver. Rather than talk about how manufacturing needs more women, he should be talking about how we develop people with the necessary knowledge and skills, and their desire to effectively apply it in any given situation. I learned it on shop floor and in problem situations; I learned it from engineers, from scientists, lawyers, and the operating technicians, from contacts inside and outside my employer’s environment, including members of every under represented group proved it. It is diversity of ideas, of experiences, of perspective; it is what they do and not who they are.
Tue, 01/06/2015 - 11:29am
I certainly agree, however you left out an important aspect of the new manufacturing renaissance in America. Its the Human Resource offices policies on ensuring certain privileges to the Affirmative Action recipients and LGBT groups whom get special preps, like having and holding a job as long as they fit the criteria of needing one. Those that have on the job integrity and actually work and do not fit the above, are first on the chopping block.
Tue, 01/06/2015 - 11:55am
I remember working in the Automotive industry and certain privileged groups of people needing an additional 2 hours daily of breaks at 1/2 hour intervals beside their daily breaks in which they added 100% more. This was common shop knowledge. Supervisors or managers always looked the other way, stupefied. However someone not fitting the Affirmative Action, LGBT recipient groups or mandatory minority mandates better not go beyond 1 minute of the designated breaks and always make their quota or get a write up. If they can't get you on those contract violations because of your on the job integrity they'll send other departmental supervisor and or managers to write you up for things such as loitering on company property, ect, ect...