New report highlights challenges still faced by America’s working women

America's working women

A majority of women who responded to a survey of shop floor manufacturing workers report a largely equitable and harassment-free workplace, according to a new report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

However, New Jersey state Senate candidate Angela Alvey-Wimbush said the report also highlights the challenges still faced by women in the industry. Just one in four production workers are women, and women are just one in seven production workers who earn at least $1000 per week.

“Careers in manufacturing can provide high earnings and good benefits and now—after years of decline—that industry is growing again,” said Alvey-Wimbush. “Manufacturing employs one in ten workers in the United States but fewer than a third of those workers are women, who are particularly underrepresented in many higher-earning shop floor positions that typically do not require a four-year college degree.”

“Women are more likely to quit jobs in manufacturing than women in other industries, reflecting a history of sexual harassment, unequal pay and opportunity denied,” said Alvey-Wimbush. “The challenges women face in male-dominated industries can hinder their success. but employers can build a more competitive workforce by addressing such issues and creating more pathways for women in the manufacturing fields.”

Alvey-Wimbush is running for state Senator in the 20th legislative district, which includes Elizabeth, Union, Kenilworth and Roselle, seeking greater prosperity for working people. Reverend Charles Mitchell and Marie DuPont are her running mates, seeking the Democratic nomination for General Assembly.

Survey respondents emphasized several solutions to removing barriers, including support from their unions to ensure fairness and equity, apprenticeships, stronger recruitment practices, quality and affordable childcare, and more inclusive workplaces.

“The manufacturing industry is a vital sector of the American economy, but too many women still have difficulty getting in the door,” said IWPR President Daisy Chin-Lor, “As our nation doubles down on infrastructure investments, the manufacturing sector needs to identify the best practices that help women enter the industry and grow professionally so future job growth can be shared equitably.”

“We were thrilled to work with IWPR to help produce this critical report. It reaffirms that women can and must play an important role in revitalizing America’s manufacturing sector,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “These findings provide us with an invaluable blueprint to ensure that women have equal access to these careers and the resources we all need to succeed, including far better child care and paid leave policies.” 

New Jersey Senate candidate Angela Alvey-Wimbush, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, and IWPR President Daisy Chin-Lor discuss ways to help women who are not always treated equally to thrive in American workplaces as manufacturing, innovation and technology industries are growing again.

“It also underscores how essential it is that these are good union jobs,” said Shuler. “That union women were far more likely to report being treated equally at work in terms of pay, benefits and scheduling is noteworthy. Unions help women to thrive and create environments where we can use our collective voice to transform our workplaces. Recruiting and supporting women is essential for guaranteeing that our nation re-enters the world stage as a powerhouse for manufacturing, innovation and technology.”

Key survey findings:

  • Respondents who report that they are always or frequently treated equally to men when it comes to safety, pay, access to overtime, layoffs, and work assignments outnumber those who are rarely or never treated equally by a two to one margin.
  • Union members are more likely than non-union members to report always or frequently being treated equally when it comes to pay (73.4 and 58.8 percent, respectively), access to good shifts (68.9 and 54.3 percent), layoffs (60.0 and 43.0 percent) and recruitment (49.4 and 39.4 percent).
  • Respondents who completed/are in apprenticeship programs were more than twice as likely to say that they are very happy with training opportunities provided by their employer (48.7 and 22.5 percent respectively).
  • Respondents who are considering leaving the industry are almost three times as likely as others to be not very happy or unhappy with training opportunities provided by their employer (29.0 and 10.7 percent, respectively).
  • One in four (25.0 percent) say their employer provides workplace childcare, and one in nine (11.7 percent) of respondents with young children use a workplace childcare center.

The survey points to the challenges the industry has to address. Recruitment efforts are haphazard, as is retaining those who are in the industry: at least four in ten respondents considered leaving the industry in the last five years.

  • Fewer than one in ten respondents learned about manufacturing opportunities from high school counselors (2.1 percent), during their military service (0.7 percent), or at an American Job Center/ Career One stop (9.5 percent).
  • Five percent of respondents have seriously considered leaving the industry in the last five years. Leave intentions are highest for respondents who are Black (60.2 percent), who have caregiving responsibilities (56.5 percent), or who have children under the age of 13 (49.5 percent).
  • Lack of respect/harassment is the most common reason rated as ‘very important’ by those with leave intentions (40.1 percent), followed by ‘wanted to spend more time with my kids’ (38.8 percent), and ‘lack of prospects for promotions/advancement’ (38.6 percent). While fifty-six (56) percent of respondents with young children have access to paid family and medical leave, fewer than half say that their employer provides pregnancy accommodation (49.1 percent) or paid paternity leave (46.1 percent).

“The more we can break down barriers in the manufacturing industry that leave women chronically underrepresented in that workforce, the more we can help women provide for their families and grow the American economy. It’s a win-win situation for all,” said Chin-Lor.

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