A recent report by the Manufacturing Institute, Deloitte and the APICS Supply Chain Council calls on manufacturers to focus efforts on gender diversity to mitigate the skills gap and improve the U.S. manufacturing sector’s ability to compete worldwide.

The joint study, which represents both the collective perspective of 600 women in manufacturing as well as the voice of manufacturing leaders, confirms the importance of increasing the amount of women in the manufacturing workforce.

According to the study, 65 percent of survey respondents indicate their company does not have an active recruitment program to attract potential female employees, and nearly three-quarters of respondents believe women are underrepresented within organizations’ leadership teams. Many women also claim that performance standards are not equal for men and women, with 77 percent maintaining the standards are higher for women.

Despite the challenges uncovered in the study, it is clear women in manufacturing have a positive outlook, as slightly more than half of respondents indicate they have observed positive change in manufacturing’s attitude toward female professional employees over the last five years. Furthermore, two-thirds of women responding to the survey said they would endorse a career in manufacturing for their daughters or family members.

"Our research estimates that the cumulative manufacturing skills gap — or the positions that likely won’t be filled due to a lack of skilled workers — will grow to 2 million between 2015 and 2025," said Craig Giffi, Deloitte vice chairman. "The industry is missing out on a critical talent resource to advance innovation in manufacturing, increase America’s competitiveness in the global manufacturing landscape and close that skills gap."

Women constitute manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent in the United States, comprising just more than one-fourth of manufacturing employees even though they make up nearly half of the total U.S. labor force. Women are underrepresented in nearly every U.S. manufacturing sector and are seldom seen in the top-level boxes on organizational charts, lagging behind the proportion of women in leadership roles at other types of companies.

"Recruiting and retaining women in manufacturing is just smart business," noted Antoinette (Tonie) Leatherberry, co-author of the research and principal for Deloitte Consulting. "Organizations that make recruitment, retention and advancement of women a strategic priority stand to gain greater access to this impressive talent pool, which in turn will give their company a competitive advantage."

For more information, visit www.deloitte.com/us/womeninmfg.