So where are all the women in manufacturing?

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Two years on from Lord Davies' report on the lack of women on boards, EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, in partnership with Lloyds Commercial Banking and Cranfield School of Management have published the FTSE 100 Women in Manufacturing Report. It is the first major assessment of the role of women in senior positions in manufacturing, at a time when questions are being raised over whether to implement statutory quotas for women on boards and how to tackle the country's shortage of female engineers.

Manufacturing companies account for 29 of the FTSE 100 companies and the report highlights that women account for 19% of these board positions, performing slightly higher than the average of 17% in the entire FTSE 100. It also ranked the number of women on the manufacturing boards, with GlaxoSmithKline performing strongest with five women accounting for 33% of their board. However, with 81% of all directorships held by men, manufacturers and other sectors still have a long way to go to unlock the talents of their female talent pool.

Interviews conducted during the survey with leading board women, including Dame Alexandra, non-executive director of Rolls Royce Holdings Plc and Professor Dame Ann Dowling, non-executive director of BP plc, reveal a number of reasons for the low number of women on executive boards. Some recurring themes stood out including, some women's tendency to undervalue their own skills and lack of role models in the industry.

Other existing research reveals that the number of female engineers in the UK has risen from just 1% to 6% since 2008 and lags behind its European counterparts with 18% in Spain, 20% in Italy and 26% in Sweden. So why is the UK not supplying the same number of female engineers as other European countries? For starters, vocational routes into the industry are put on the same parity of esteem as academic learning. Whilst the tide is beginning to change in the UK, with an increasing focus on Apprenticeships, there is still some way to go. Moreover, engineering is seen as more of a ‘professional' pathway in such countries. In the UK we need to make it clear to young women that a professional career in manufacturing is accessible and attainable.

EEF urges for a grassroots approach, with both government and businesses targeting girls at a younger age and doing more to highlight that manufacturing can be a modern, dynamic and high-tech sector that is not ‘just for boys'. Research from Engineering UK reveals that a 91% of young females effectively rule themselves out of an engineering career by not choosing triple science at the age of 14. A light-touch approach to careers guidance or ‘inspiration' should begin in primary school, with more structured careers advice being available to young people in secondary school, including a face-to-face element.

EEF and its partners want to increase the number of young women learning science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects , and better promotion of vocational pathways including apprenticeships. The UK needs to continue to champion manufacturing but to specifically target young females who could become future leaders of our industry.

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