The world is changing (and sometimes for the better). Organisations and individuals are working to encourage more woman into the battery industry and increase the percentage of female workers. BEST spoke to entrepreneur, economic influencer and author Gina Radke on how the industry can attract more woman to leadership roles ahead of her keynote presentation at 2022’s Battery Council International conference.
“In my experience it is not that the manufacturing industry is inherently sexist or unwelcoming of female talent, it is that the industry is unaware of how to approach and shift recruitment and retention processes to cast a wider net that will include more female talent.”
These words by Gina Radke highlight fundamental issues that affect not just the battery industry, but the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) sectors in general.
According to the United States Census Bureau, woman made up 25% of the country’s estimated 10.8 million STEM workers in 2019. Those who see the glass half full will argue that shows strong growth— in 1970 woman made up 38% of all US workers, but only represented 8% of all STEM workers. Others will wonder why that number is not higher.
The reasons for that may be social, physiological, have roots in the schooling system, or simply a lack of role models to inspire the next Marie Currie, Elizabeth Blackwell, or Mae C. Jemison.
If one of those areas was the biggest stumbling block, change would be easy, but it is more likely a case of all four. But the times they are a changing.
According to the Bureau, woman working in engineering occupations increased from 3% in 1970 to 15% in 2019. In contrast, men made up 52% of all US workers in 2019, but 73% of all STEM workers, according to the US census. That number can feel much higher when attending some battery conferences.
In the UK, 35% of all STEM students were female in the academic year 2017/18— totalling 112, 720 people. From 2017, that number has increased by 6.3%, and there is now around one million women working in core STEM occupations in the UK as of 2019.
Between 2015-19, the number of women graduating in core STEM subjects in the UK grew to 24,705. The politician’s answer would be to say this shows a linear increase, but with more men graduating in these subject areas, the real-world percentage of women graduating in STEM disciplines was 26% in 2019.
Time for a change
Last September, Battery Council International (BCI) announced a new group to aid the professional development of women in the battery industry during the group’s annual BCI Convention + Power Mart meeting.
The Women in the Global Battery Industry group aims to help women further their careers as well as furthering their company’s goals.
Julie McClure, chairman of lead battery equipment manufacturing MAC Engineering, said at the launch: “As a second generation professional in the battery industry, I know how valuable relationships are in building leadership skills to serve in executive positions within the industry, especially in one that is a traditionally male enterprise.
“Through the networking, professional growth, education and mentorship opportunities we will offer, I am excited to increase the number of C-suite executives in our growing industry.”
The formation of the group was supported by BCI Board of Directors and its president, Chris Pruitt— CEO and president of battery manufacturer East Penn Manufacturing, which has previously been named as one of America’s Best Employers for Women by Forbes and Statista.
To continue the good work, BCI invited Radke to give a keynote presentation at it May’s conference titled ‘Professional women in manufacturing: how to attract and develop female leaders in the industry’.
Radke’s presentation will focus on giving attendees actionable and measurable items that will target the recruitment and retention of female employees.
The presentation will focus on where companies are recruiting, how they are interviewing, how they are promoting, and raising awareness of possible barriers to females in the industry, conscious and unconscious bias, and small cultural shifts (many at no cost) that could help retain a female workforce.
In addition it will focus on what women themselves can do to help breakdown stereotypes and barriers to other women in the industry.
Radke said: “In my time consulting companies I have learned that many are doing everything they can to recruit talent as a whole, and that small shifts yield large returns in the recruitment of female talent.
“As the general workforce is 47% female, while the manufacturing industry across all sectors is only 29% female, recruiting female talent is the fastest way to address the labour shortage and close the skills gap.”
What can be done: a Q&A
Radke spends two weeks every July on the production floor of her Aerospace manufacturing company Galley Support Innovations, working in various departments, running every machine on the production floor and producing product from start to finish.
This action not only allows her to connect with staff, but allows her to see first-hand process and cultural issues that could be missed if confined to an office.
Radke has worked with the Manufacturing Institute on women in manufacturing issues, and has spent “many hours” touring manufacturing planets and educational programs in her home state of Arkansas and others to assist her state in creating the new wave of programs to attract and educate the new generation of manufacturing professionals.
In the past, she has personally coached business owners with a focus on manufacturing process, increasing profits and culture across the country.
Radke has also written a best-selling book focused on women in business “More Than, How to be Bold and Balanced in Life and Business”. She has spoken around the world on this topic and serves as a trade advisor to the US Congress.
Despite similar achievement scores among children of all genders in math and science, why do you think the STEM sectors have historically failed to attract more female talent in higher education and work?
This is overall societal issues. It is roughly around 8th grade when girls began to shift to non-STEM activities and career goals. This comes from cultural pressures to chose more “feminine” careers. In the past educational opportunities where distinctively divided among the sexes. With boys being sent to woodshop/machining classes and girls being sent to home economics. The split would run through generations, even after the classes where no longer allowed to split education by sex. We heard our parents and grandparents encourage us to go into fields that “matched” our genders. Even going as far as to question the sexuality of those who went against societal gender norms in education and career.
For example how many men are assumed to be homosexual if they go into the beauty field or become a nurse; and how many woman are assumed to be lesbians if they go into manufacturing or construction? While most of today’s parents will never openly say these things to their children the unconscious bias is still present in the undertones of conversations, images seen in career advertisements, and portrayed by the entertainment world.
Referring to the above question, are things changing in this area, or what needs to be done to close that percentage?
I do believe things are changing in this area. It has started with the education system. When schools have programs such as Girls in STEM clubs the schools show a higher percentage of those female students pursuing STEM degrees in higher education. However, the percentage of females pursuing STEM fields in trade schools in still relatively small. This is again a cultural issue that encourages women to be doctors and engineers but not machinist or other skilled trades. This is not a gender issue alone. The idea that everyone must go to college because parents believe their children are “too good to work a factory job” began to become popular in the late 80’s and 90’s which has led the entire country to have higher college debt, while having a shortage in skilled labour. Not to mention a large percentage of people paying for a degree that they could not find work in.
What do you believe are the actionable and measurable methods for recruiting and retaining more female employees? From your experience consulting companies, what small shifts can companies employ to in the recruitment of female talent?
Looking at where you recruit: Supplement general job advertising with advertising within groups focused on females. Such as a high school or college groups for Girls/Women in STEM. By doing this you can measure how many female applicants you had before versus how many you had after advertising among these focused groups. Interview your female team members and ask what changes the company could make to retain female talent. Pick out a few of the suggestions and measure your female turn over from the time of implementation until a minimum of 18 months later.
What resources can assist companies to build a solid recruitment and retainment plan?
There are numerous organisations out there that assist in helping companies put together plans for IDE (Inclusion, Equity and Diversity) from the Manufacturing Institute to private IED consultants, to Women’s industry groups both locally and nationally. I will provide contact information to a few of these resources within my presentation.
Do you believe gender barriers have historically impeded women’s progress in the STEM industries, and if so, do they still exist?
Yes, please see questions 2&3. As well as the unconscious and often conscious actions of trying to figure out if a women is of childbearing age, assuming too many women in one department will cause gossip, assuming women are to emotional to handle tough work environments to name a few. As well as work schedules that punish the primary caregiver in families, which is most predominately women, but also single fathers.
Do you think there is a change in cultural attitudes (including experience isolation caused by lack of access to women peers, role models, and mentors) that designate STEM industry as a more inappropriate field for women?
Absolutely. The phrase “if you can see it you can be it”, rings loud in the industry. Without being able to see other women in the industry, especially in leadership positions, the unconscious theme of not being welcome or respected begins to play into someone’s psyche. Whenever I speak to a women’s industry group and there are men in the room I always ask if they had the thought or concern if they would be the only man in the room. The answer is always yes. Women have that thought every time they walk into a new company, or even every meeting at work.
What benefits/advantages do woman bring to the STEM industrial roles?
The simple fact that increasing the percentage of women in STEM industrial jobs that are going unfilled will be a benefit to the labour crisis among the industry. It is proven that having a diverse workforce increases a companies production and profits.* Fortune 500 companies with a greater percentage of female leadership and board members had higher profit margins then those with a lower percentage of female leadership.
To list specific benefits/advantages of female workers would feed into stereotypes and downplay men’s ability in the field. I found it better to assume that any and all diversity in background, age, gender, and race brings benefits and advantages to STEM fields. This idea in itself is a cultural shift as opposed to cultural gender stereotypes. As the man I bought my company from years ago made the statement that women were better employees because “they are more focused and you can pay them less”.
*The Peterson Institute for International Economics completed a survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries.