FOCUS ON DIVERSITY
THE GENDER GAP
Getting more women into manufacturing : what can you learn from a lawyer ?
“ Hope is not a strategy ; it ’ s time to do things differently . In doing so , you are likely to give your business a competitive advantage and create a more robust and effective working culture .”
Lucy Pringle ,
Partner , Womble Bond Dickinson
To celebrate International Women ’ s Day on 8 March 2023 , we feature this article by manufacturing lawyer , Lucy Pringle , who is a Partner at international law firm , Womble Bond Dickinson . She has been a manufacturing lawyer for 15 years , with a passion for the sector , and is also a keen advocate for women in STEM .
In this article , she analyses similarities between the legal and the manufacturing sectors in terms of attracting and retaining female talent and draws upon her experience as a lawyer and mentor to provide some tips for manufacturing leaders . She also highlights how lessons learned on supporting the progression of women in law can transfer to the manufacturing sector .
Manufacturing and Law
What do Manufacturing and Law have in common ? Both are traditionally maledominated work environments , which increasingly attract women into their industries at entry level but have not seen the same pace of change in terms of women reaching senior leadership roles .
I have been a manufacturing lawyer for 15 years and love working with manufacturing businesses . The people in the sector are a pleasure to work with – friendly , very smart and collaborative . Those clients are also almost uniformly male . I have always felt welcome and , contrary to stereotypes , have experienced a distinct lack of macho-culture . This experience has shown me that a career in the manufacturing industry has so much to offer women . There are many efforts to improve the numbers of women in STEM and I ’ ve been delighted to see the numbers of women at industry events increase year on year , but there is still huge progress to be made .
The skills gap in manufacturing is welldocumented . Businesses which fail to appeal to 50 % of the population are missing a huge pool of talent that can help to address that gap . In the legal profession , we have seen that simply hoping for change does not alter the status quo . Despite , for many years , the majority of law graduates entering the profession being female , improvements in the gender balance at the top of law firms proved to be glacial until targeted action was implemented .
Businesses need to take concrete steps to change the way women experience their workplace to attract , retain and promote women . And the good news is that most of the changes don ’ t cost a penny - very lean !
What can you learn from a law firm ?
I recently set up and now co-chair Womble Bond Dickinson ’ s women ’ s network , which has given me a wealth of exposure to what women need to thrive in the workplace . We don ’ t have all the answers ( and the answers we ’ ve found won ’ t be relevant to all women ) but here are some of the key things we have learned that you can transfer into your own business :
1 . Consider setting up a women ’ s network . You may think it is not appropriate for a male leadership team to set up a women ’ s network but be aware that women may have concerns about how a women ’ s network would be perceived in a male-dominated environment , and therefore may not suggest it themselves . To avoid any risk of it being perceived as a ‘ trade union for women ’, the mandate must come from the top . Give specific authority for a network , ask them to report regularly into the Board , be vocal in your encouragement of their initiatives and implement recommendations they make where possible . Lastly , value and reward the contribution that they make in this regard . Effecting cultural change takes an enormous amount of time , energy and motivation , so it needs to be recognised as ‘ real work ’.
2 . Role models are essential . There is definite truth in the saying “ You can ’ t be what you can ’ t see ”, so you need to identify and showcase female role models in your business ( at all levels and in all departments ). Many women are not comfortable about being put on a pedestal , and few would self-declare as a role model , so this may take some encouragement !
3 . Find and remove barriers . Women can experience systemic barriers in the workplace that men do not experience to the same degree , as well as self-imposed barriers that show up more frequently in female personality traits . Examples of systemic barriers include taking time out of the business on maternity leave which impedes career progression , a long-hours culture being incompatible with caring responsibilities and only making the highest profile projects available to full-time workers . Self-imposed barriers could include women waiting for gaps in conversations to speak up in meetings ( those gaps may never come so they never say anything ), discounting themselves from the next step up the career ladder and not being comfortable with self-promotion . It is unrealistic to expect men to be able to identify barriers which women experience , so you will need to ask women what issues they face ( and that ’ s where having a women ’ s network can be handy !). You can then implement targeted
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