I was asked to comment here on International Women’s Day, and whilst writing I was reminded of my numerous presentations and speeches over the last 25 years. These ranged from the opening of Ford’s Dunton Technical Plant to a speech in the House of Commons where I likened the Skills Funding Agency service offering to a chocolate orange! Bizarrely, I was not invited back….
During the Q&A section at each of those events, you could guarantee that I would be asked how we attract more women into engineering and manufacturing and my answer was always the same:
Attracting women was not the issue, attracting talent was – and without a change in the perception of manufacturing, it would always be a war we could not win.
We see daily LinkedIn posts on the manufacturing industry from people such as Steve Howard, Mark Weymouth, Matt Chilton, and Stuart Whitehead to name but a few. All regularly shout about the fabulous news coming out of UK Manufacturing - huge investment, job creation, new facilities, surges in technology and innovation during the pandemic, diversity and collaboration leading to life saving products and general all-round positivity throughout the sector!
But why do we only see this on social media?
Where is all this good news on the national media?
Are the national press only interested in sensationalism, gossip or doom and gloom?
Or are they simply not aware of what we do and how amazing we are?
Is this why we struggle to attract the talent we need, irrelevant of gender?
For almost 30 years I have loved this industry. Throughout my career I have campaigned for more awareness and promotion of our manufacturing and engineering abilities and technologies, and to raise the profile of careers and the opportunities within our businesses. I have asked for numerous trade associations to collaborate to create good news stories, case studies, events, and promote inspirational leaders to attract media focus and tempt talent to join us.
To once and for all eradicate the myth of “dark and dirty” or that manufacturing apprenticeships were only for those who could not go to university.
I am pleased and proud of the increase in diversity I have witnessed over the years, albeit at a slow but steady rate. The industry specific events have changed dramatically over the years; the number of women has increased, the age profile has reduced, and the diversity has improved tremendously. And we have achieved this with little or no support from the Government nor the media.
So, just imagine what we could achieve with a focus on a united Industrial Marketing Strategy with promotion, education, and collaboration.
With a focused campaign to show the UK just what we do, how well we do it and what amazing innovation and inspiration comes from within our walls….
Imagine educating the country on how what we do not only enhances their daily lives but in some cases, saves them!
I was lucky enough to speak at an International Women’s Day event just over 10 years ago and I was humbled by the positive feedback I had from my speech and the impact I had on some of the women who attended. It was a wonderful day, and I will never forget their kind words. I am a massive supporter of women in industry and equality for all, but I also believe that balancing gender numbers for political or HR purposes does not enhance a business – talent does.
So, I must question whether in these days of diversity and inclusion, do we need to celebrate an International Women’s Day or do we celebrate manufacturing, or talent in general, instead?
People who inspire, irrelevant of gender.
Individuals who lead, who promote change and innovation, who help us to grow both personally and professionally.
Businesses whose teams and contributions have changed our lives forever.
And when we celebrate these people, and our industry in general, we invite the national media to join our applause and get the message out there that we are a vibrant sector overflowing with talent and glamour - and in some cases, even gossip. Maybe that will be enough to get them to open their eyes, to hear and see just how amazing and valuable we are, not just to the UK economy, but to their daily lives too.