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Women, Manufacturing, and the Global Recession

February 3, 2010
War production workers at the Vilter [Manufact...
Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

While worldwide manufacturing jobs are dwindling to record lows, the female population in these sectors is being hit exceptionally hard. The last decade had seen a substantial increase of women joining the trades, yet the last year of layoffs has displaced the majority of these relatively new workers.

Unionized seniority protection has kept the mostly older male populations employed, while leaving the younger newly recruited employees to be thrown back into the jobless pool. Unfortunately this is the demographic most of our women are clumped into. While job prospects are not ideal for anyone in manufacturing industries, women also have the battle of breaking down the “old boys club” barriers once again.

Enola the Welder, Woman Welder at Heil Company, courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Images

Media reports of this recession hitting males harder than females have been ignorant to the fact that the few women who had been creating strides in the industrial work force are now back to square one. The lack of these women in the force will inevitably create a reverse in the movement towards gender equality and representation in male dominated trades.

So what is to be done?

Woman in Factory (1940s) by Mohammad A. Hamama - A Socialist Blogger

The concentration of women’s rights groups has always been to focus on a ground up approach, convincing young women to consider trades as an option while still in high school. This is a good start but there are several major flaws with this plan. The absence of support for these women once they have finished training programs is virtually non-existent, leaving them at a distinct disadvantage when trying to find work.

The need for hiring practice reforms to give these women equal employment opportunities is essential. Gender based discrimination at the hiring level is disabling the integration of women into the workforce. The difficulty lies in convincing hiring bodies that women can easily be introduced into the work force without jeopardizing profitability or creating tensions with the male population. To counteract these fears, Governments need to get involved with subsidising initial costs for minor things like retrofitting buildings to accommodate appropriate personal spaces such as change and washrooms, along with extra HR and staff training.

Julie Bartkiewicz is an artist and industrial worker currently living in North Bay, Canada.

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9 Comments
  1. Don permalink
    February 4, 2010 10:08 pm

    It seems as though many other areas of the world aren’t focusing on putting women in the “blue collar” positions of the work force. Rather, alot of countries are focusing on putting women in the high-level decision-making positions. The article below from the Boston Globe shows that companies with the highest proportion of women in power were decisively more profitable than those companies with little or no women in upper management positions. In fact, according to the article, many companies in Europe have set goals to substantially increase the number of women in upper management positions.

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/05/03/the_female_advantage/?page=1

    Iceland has also decided to put women in charge of 2 of the banks that collapsed last year during the financial crisis to ensure that it does not happen again. In fact, the only bank that did not collapse in Iceland was the only one that was run by women. Many women in Iceland have lost confidence in the ability of men to successfully run the banks and blame men for the country’s economic failures. Unfortunately, it is hard to deny since men were in charge at the time.
    http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/apr2009/gb20090424_328219.htm?campaign_id=rss_daily

    In my opinion, I think the focus should be putting women in the top level “decision-making” positions where they are needed instead of the “blue collar” manufacturing positions.

    • February 5, 2010 3:24 am

      Don, can you explain why it needs to be either/or? Even if every single top-level decision making position in the world went to women, that would still leave a lot of women out.

  2. Don permalink
    February 5, 2010 7:36 am

    It should be both. I don’t think there are any manufacturing jobs that men do that women cannot do. But in my opinion the “old boys club” will always continue until there are women in the upper management positions to break it up and hire women to fill the lower level positions. Instead of focusing on a “ground up” approach, maybe they should focus on a “top down” approach. I think the government should provide incentives to companies to put women in he upper level positions. Government contracts should be first given to women-owned companies or companies that can provide evidence that 50% or more of their upper management positions are held by women. I just believe that once women have a presence in the top level positions they will ensure that more women are hired to fill the lower level positions. I agree that this will create tensions in the male population. But it is only fair and it needs to be done in my opinion.

  3. Julie Bartkiewicz permalink
    February 5, 2010 11:44 am

    Don,
    I believe your first line is where everything started to go horribly wrong. “areas of the world aren’t focusing on putting women in the “blue collar” positions of the work force.”
    Women do not want to be “Put” anywhere. We desire to have the equal opportunities to gain meaningful employment in a Blue Collar field.

    You later state:
    “In my opinion, I think the focus should be putting women in the top level “decision-making” positions where they are needed instead of the “blue collar” manufacturing positions.”
    You are assuming that the women would be happy with moving into the White Collar world. The point of my article was to question the viability of women being employed in Blue Collar fields. In essence what you are suggesting is that all the women who have gone to colleges and universities to obtain the training and qualifications for a desired Blue Collar positions should instead be “Put” in a White Collar job, as if the White Collar job is of higher value.

    In your reply to Elizabeth, you claim that “old boys club” will always continue until there are women in the upper management positions to break it up and hire women to fill the lower level positions.”
    I personally have never been hired by an upper management employee. As in most fields you are hired by a manager or supervisor. To become a manager or supervisor it is almost essential to work in the field in an entry level position.

    You are also not taking into account that the majority of manufacturing takes place in job shops. Where there is no upper management, you have a boss, maybe a supervisor and a handful of people doing the physical work.

    I totally disagree with your suggestion of giving female owned/operated companies contracts over non-female owned. We do not want to take anything away from the men. We do not want hand outs we want equality.

  4. Don permalink
    February 6, 2010 1:08 pm

    Julie,
    You are right. I agree that just because women have earned the majority of the the college degrees doesn’t necessarily mean that they all want to go into the white collar jobs or upper management jobs. It is unfortunate, however, that the blue collar/ manual labor jobs are controlled and dominated by men. In my opinion it is not a case where women cannot do the jobs or be profitable to the company. They obviously can do those jobs as well as men…or even better. But as I previously mentioned, it is important to hire women to fill the leadership positions of the companies as well. Those women will then have a direct impact on the hiring practices of the company.

    “when you have women in leadership positions … across your organization, it also helps drive hiring that’s reflective of that leadership team.” – Bob Paul, President & COO of Compuware

    http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20091019/FREE/310189973#

    I also apologize for using the word “Put” in my previous post.

    • February 6, 2010 3:06 pm

      Don, did you miss the part where you’re talking with a woman who has actual real-life experience of being a blue collar worker and where she explained to you that the hiring for such positions isn’t done by upper management? Or did you simply disregard her understanding of her own experiences in favor of a quote from a male COO? Because either way, it’s pretty problematic.

  5. Julie Bartkiewicz permalink
    February 6, 2010 3:38 pm

    Letting men get away with discrimination and questionable hiring practices is not the solution to the problem.

    Why do we need women to hire women? Why aren’t men capable of hiring a woman, who has the knowledge and skills to do a particular job?

    Again to get these women into the hiring positions they have to have worked in the field. You can not just jump into a foreman position straight out of school.

  6. Don permalink
    February 6, 2010 4:49 pm

    Elizabeth,
    Point well taken. When you put it like that it does make more sense to side with a woman who experienced the hiring practices herself over a comment from a male COO.

  7. Don permalink
    February 7, 2010 12:10 pm

    Julie,
    I apologize for completely disregarding your previous comments & experiences concerning hiring practices and also for relying on a quote made by a male COO.

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