Manufacturing has several myths that have been disproven. There’s the persistent belief that it’s dirty. Unsafe. For the unskilled. But one of the most prominent stereotypes is that the industry is for men-only. This is the most untrue of all the myths. Women are just as capable of thriving in the manufacturing industry as men, just like any other work force.

Despite making up nearly 48% of the workforce, only about 30% of working women have jobs in manufacturing. This gender gap needs to change, and educational facilities are contributing to this by encouraging women to study STEM subjects.

It’s surprising that this stereotype is so persistent, as women in the manufacturing industry isn’t even a new concept. Historically, women have been on the factory floor since the 1800s.

Lowell Mill Girls

Women have been in manufacturing since the Industrial Revolution. By the 1840s, the textile factories of Lowell, MA had recruited over 8,000 workers, with women between the ages of 15 and 35 making up nearly two-thirds of the workforce. These women were known as the Lowell mill girls. While they only got paid half of what the men did, this chance to work in the manufacturing industry allowed them to gain, for the time period, unheard of economic independence. 

These women not only challenged gender stereotypes, but hiring them helped displace child labor, which had been unfortunately commonplace before then. As time went on, many women began to join the broader American labor movement, protesting increasingly harsh working conditions in factories. In 1845 they also came together to form the first union of working women in the United States; the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association.

Rosie the Riveter

We Can Do It Rosie the Riveter poster

“We Can Do It!” has long been a slogan tied to women’s fight for equality. Coined to help motivate the women in America as they worked in factories and shipyards during WWII, the slogan was paired with illustrations of Rosie the Riveter – an iconic depiction of a strong female war production worker. Today Rosie has become a symbol of American feminism and women’s economic advantage as a whole. But she was more than just one poster. She encompassed a manufacturing movement.

The war had created a massive need for munitions, war supplies, and other manufactured goods, but the labor shortage caused by men being shipped off to fight overseas had the US government turning to women to take their place. Over five million women heard this call to action, and social barriers were broken as African American, Hispanic, White, and Asian women worked side by side to support their country. The women, many of whom had been housewives, found satisfaction in this type of work and were reluctant to return to the lower-paying fields of more “traditional” women’s work after the war.

Benefits of Women in the Workforce

The fact is, there is a shortage of skilled workers in the manufacturing industry, and it’s time for employers to realize that they should be recruiting more women. More women in the industry is a benefit, as gender diversity improves innovation and employee morale. But to get more women to fill this gap, they need to recognize that they are welcome on the workforce floor. Employers should showcase more female workers in marketing and recruitment campaigns, while schools and training programs can encourage younger women to consider it a viable career path.

The fact is, there is no reason for women to feel they don’t belong in manufacturing. They are just as capable of gaining the skills needed to thrive in the workforce and start a fulfilling career in the manufacturing industry.