CME presents action plan to encourage more women to join manufacturing workforce at House of Commons Committee

November 7, 2017

Remarks : House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO)

Mike Holden, Chief Economist, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters

Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.

My name is Mike Holden. I’m the chief economist for Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. Joining me today is Elise Maheu, Director of Government Affairs at 3M Canada. Elise is a member of CME’s National Board of Directors and the chair of our Women in Manufacturing Working Group.

Elise and I are here today to talk about the need to improve female representation in the manufacturing workforce.

Manufacturing is vital to the Canadian economy. It employs 1.7 million people, it accounts for about 70 per cent of our exports and directly contributes 11 per cent of national GDP. When spinoff effects are included, close to 30 per cent of all employment and economic activity across Canada relies on domestic manufacturing.

However, manufacturers face a number of challenges preventing them from realizing their full potential. Among them is that our members are struggling to find workers – especially in the skilled trades and in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math. Addressing this issue is one of the top priorities of our Industrie 2030 national strategy to double manufacturing output and exports by the year 2030.

Attracting more women to manufacturing is the best way to solve this problem. Women hold 48 per cent of all jobs across Canada, but only 28 per cent of jobs in manufacturing. And the situation is not improving. Female representation in manufacturing has been unchanged for 30 years.

The gender imbalance is even greater in production-related jobs. Women hold less than 5 per cent of jobs in the skilled trades; and less than one quarter of all jobs in STEM fields. These are exactly the occupations where manufacturing labour and skills shortages are most acute.

Through Elise’s leadership, CME is undertaking a major initiative to address this problem. We released our first report about two weeks ago here in Ottawa. I am the author of that report and Elise is leading the effort on implementation and next steps.

I would like to provide you with a brief overview of our key findings and then pass the floor to Elise to talk about the path forward.

At the outset, I want to say that our goal with this report was not just to increase labour supply for manufacturers, but also to open the door to new and exciting opportunities for women. Manufacturing has a lot to offer. Compared to the national average, manufacturing jobs tend to be more secure, are more likely to be full-time, and they pay better as well. Across Canada, average weekly earnings for women are about 76 cents on the dollar compared to men. In the skilled trades, however, it’s over 82 cents. And in STEM fields: more than 86 cents.

Our report is focused on what women have to say. We conducted a survey in August and September asking women with firsthand experience in manufacturing a series of questions about: their current work environment; the challenges and obstacles they face; and, most importantly, what THEY think needs to be done to attract more women to the sector.

Our report and action plan were developed directly out of those survey findings.

The first, and most important, finding was that women in manufacturing like their jobs. 80 per cent would consider remaining in the sector if they could restart their careers all over again. The vast majority would support their daughters pursuing a manufacturing career. And 91 per cent thought that more women would be interested in manufacturing work if they saw what it actually looked like.

At the same time, women identified a number of specific obstacles they see as contributing to the existing gender gap. There are three problem areas specific to the manufacturing workplace itself:

  • Sexism and a male-centric workplace culture. Many women are uncomfortable with the male-dominated work environment in manufacturing, and many feel they must work harder than men to prove themselves. In fact, the gender gap in manufacturing may be at least in part a chicken-and-egg problem – women avoid careers in manufacturing because there are not enough women with careers in manufacturing.
  • Opportunities for promotion and advancement. We found that a significant number of women leave manufacturing jobs because they see few opportunities for career advancement. They also see women under-represented in executive leadership, and feel that men have greater access to promotion opportunities.
  • Work-life balance. Women in manufacturing told us that they struggle to balance their work and family commitments. Many say they have quit manufacturing jobs for this reason, and those with families fear that unavoidable commitments will hinder their career advancement.

Finally, there are two other issues that women told us need to be addressed.

First, manufacturing continues to have a reputation problem. People cling to an outdated view of manufacturing work as being dark, dirty and dangerous. Survey respondents told us that this perception causes women to overlook manufacturing opportunities.

Second, women told us that the school system does not encourage young girls to pursue an education in STEM fields and the skilled trades. They believe that attracting more girls to these programs was critical to closing the gender gap in manufacturing.

With that overview, I would like to turn the floor over to Elise to talk about the path forward.

Elise Maheu, Director, Government Affairs, 3M Canada, Chair of CME’s Women in Manufacturing Working Group

Thanks Mike,

Good Morning, my name is Elise Maheu, I am the CME’s Board Chair of the Women in Manufacturing Working Group. The group was launched last March with the goal of attracting more women into the manufacturing professions. One of the first thing we decided to do was to understand the current realities of women in manufacturing industries to identify a path forward. Mike highlighted for you the results of the survey.

We identified five areas where action is needed to attract and engage women in manufacturing:

  1. More high-profile female role models are needed to inspire and encourage young women to pursue a career in manufacturing. Women need to see other women succeed. Nearly 37 per cent of survey respondents said that one of the most effective ways to attract more women to manufacturing was to have more visible female role models. Women under 35 were considerably more likely to say that female role models would help attract more girls to manufacturing professions.
  2. Young women need more exposure to modern manufacturing facilities to gain a more accurate perspective on the career opportunities available to them. Misconceptions about manufacturing need to be addressed. Nearly 61 per cent of women surveyed believe that other women would be more likely to consider a job in manufacturing if they had a better idea of what manufacturing work was like. We need to address the outdated view of repetitive, dull and dreary manufacturing work.
  3. Efforts to encourage young girls to pursue an education in STEM fields and/or the skilled trades need to be improved. The biggest roadblock preventing the gender gap in manufacturing from narrowing is that there are simply not enough women out there with the right qualifications to work in production-related manufacturing jobs. Only about one in twenty certified tradespeople are women. Many companies are actively trying to recruit more women to manufacturing, but these efforts will have little impact until we first increase the number of women available to do that work.
  4. Businesses need to make their workplace culture more inclusive. Women enjoy working in manufacturing, but they point to challenges in two specific areas:
  • The first of these is the gender gap itself. There is a chicken-and-egg problem in manufacturing. Survey results are clear: The existing gender imbalance discourages women from considering a career in manufacturing. It is maintained by a male-dominant culture in the workplace and women feel it is an unwelcoming work environment for them. This is an area where businesses themselves need to take a leadership role – by taking a hard look at their workplace culture – listening and acting upon the concerns of the female employees.
  • Businesses also need to find creative ways to improve work-life balance for their employees to accommodate both women and men. Many women struggle with finding an appropriate balance between work and their personal lives. Shift work, which is common in many production-related jobs, discourages some women from even applying for manufacturing jobs.

In the coming months, CME will be actively engaging with businesses, governments and other stakeholders to look at developing solutions.

For example, we can work together to promote careers in manufacturing to girls and women, by providing higher visibility of women in manufacturing role models through events and an online campaign of sharing profiles. This can also include a series of videos and plant visits demonstrating careers in manufacturing and modern manufacturing to expose them to the opportunities and dispel the myth of manufacturing being dirty and dangerous.

We can also share our success stories around promoting the accomplishments of our women in manufacturing. Finally, we can further support organisation that help bring young girls to learn about STEM.

For example, for close to a decade 3M Canada has collaborated with Let’s Talk Science, a charitable organisation that supports learning and skill development for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students across the country to help youth and girls get engaged with STEM and connect with career role models. 3M Canada is also one of the founding partners for Canada 2067, a national initiative to rethink the future of STEM education also showcasing a variety of female professionals who will pitch their industry to secondary students in the next 18 months.

Our hope is that in a few years, the participation of women in manufacturing will not be a challenge, but rather a strength that is powering the competiveness and growth of Canadian manufacturers internationally.


Since 1871, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters has been helping manufacturers grow at home and, compete around the world. Our focus is to ensure manufacturers are recognized as engines for growth in the economy, with Canada acknowledged as both a global leader and innovator in advanced manufacturing and a global leader in exporting. CME is a member-driven association that directly represents more than 2,500 leading companies who account for an estimated 82 per cent of manufacturing output and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports.


Ady Stefan Calin
Manager, Communications & Branding
Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters
(514) 293-3765