Women in maintenance: Let’s close the talent gap
The position of women in the maintenance industry
Traditionally, women hold fewer leadership positions when compared to their male counterparts in many industries, whether that’s in the USA or globally.
Maintenance is an industry where female representation is extremely low, be it on the ground floor or in managerial roles.
Let’s look at a few statistics to back that up:
- Starting with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women only account for 25% of facilities management positions.
- Data from the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) shows that the female workforce in natural resources, construction, and maintenance makes up 1% compared to 28% of positions held by women in sales and office jobs.
- The career information website Zippia reports that women constitute just 5.2% of industrial maintenance technicians.
- In its profile of maintenance and repair workers, Data USA showed that as of 2019, 94.7% of these workers were male.
Given the continuous difficulty that companies face finding a qualified maintenance workforce, organizations should begin to get creative about attracting and retaining more female employees.
This could be an avenue for securing a new generation of workers and for improving the situation in the long term.
While there is no “one-size-fits-all” route to addressing this challenge, there are steps organizations can take to overcome the talent gap and attract more female maintenance workers.
We discuss some of those steps below.
How maintenance companies can attract more women
1. Offer flexible work schedules
Many employers claim to offer their staff flexible schedules, but that flexibility often comes with hidden drawbacks.
True flexibility is more than allowing workers some extra hours off from time to time.
Instead, ask when life throws unexpected challenges at them (sick parents, school activities, or sick children) can your employees adjust their schedules without the fear of penalties for whatever life throws at them—sick children, sick parents, school plays, whatever—as long as they are producing results.
It’s possible to have a workplace that values performance over hours worked.
That being said, the maintenance industry suffers from a lot of overtime work.
The company culture has to switch from a reactive to proactive mindset so organizations can first stabilize working hours.
Only then can they look into offering more flexible schedules and other benefits for both male and female workers.
2.Diversify leadership positions
How diversified is your C-suite?
If it’s made up of men only, female newcomers may have little motivation to climb the corporate ladder.
When recruiting, what message is your company sending to female candidates?
How many of your team leaders are women?
Diverse leadership teams are more successful. So companies that seek to grow their business and recruit talented women should try including strong female leaders in top management.
3. Enforce policies against workplace bias & sexism
A study by the BBC’s ScienceFocus states that women in science-based jobs are leaving due to their frustration with sexism, bias, and the lack of growth opportunities.
Heads of maintenance departments should be proactive about creating a workplace culture that prohibits bias against women.
Create a system that encourages employee feedback and honest conversation on different subjects.
Don’t wait until there’s a harassment-related incident before looking for a resolution.
Document company policies on these issues and frequently communicate with staff on matters surrounding discrimination and harassment.
Unfortunately, harassment and bias can be somewhat subtle and subjective, so ensure that your policies are clear about the signs of harassment, who to report to, and the timeframe for reporting.
4. Adopt women-friendly PPE and facilities
Being women-friendly doesn’t end with simply hiring women.
Companies can actively take steps to ensure that women are comfortable at work by making facilities such as separate washrooms, medical, and sanitary equipment readily available.
Another often overlooked area is the aspect of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for women.
Ill-fitting PPE that are originally designed for male workers can even pose a safety risk for women.
Fortunately, significant progress has been made in this area, with brands like Blaklader now offering maternity safety wear for many years.
5. Get them interested at a young age
Women are currently underrepresented in high-skilled subjects, e.g., STEM, that can help them qualify for more specific maintenance roles.
Globally, female students make up only 35% of STEM scholars.
In the same study by ScienceFocus that we mentioned earlier, they interviewed over 1,000 girls to find out what was turning them off from science.
You can read more about that here.
What can maintenance companies do to improve the situation?
One area to explore is mentoring programs.
If school-age girls get to observe and work closely with experienced and accomplished female maintenance executives and technicians, it could influence them to follow similar career paths.
Get inspiration from industries that are actively reaching out to the younger audience, like during Manufacturing Month.
6. Fair pay
Women who work in installation, maintenance, and repair occupations made 81 cents to the dollar men earned in 2020.
That means women get $190 less every week.
Doing the same job.
On a yearly basis, the difference is $9,880 per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
You would think that this gap would be shrinking, right?
It actually got bigger, it’s up by 12 cents since 2011.
Are you keeping statistics for your business? What action has your company taken? Is it impacting staff retention?
Tips for aspiring female maintenance workers
Now that we’ve discussed women in maintenance from the angle of the employer, let’s look at a few tips to help aspiring female maintenance workers get – and keep – awesome positions in this field.
1. Communication is the key
Even though we live in the 21st century a lot of women still need to juggle more than their male colleagues between their private and professional lives.
If you are in a situation where you know you can’t work late shifts or have unexpected extra late hours – communicate that with your manager.
If you find that your manager is not taking your need into consideration maybe that is the sign that this company is not the one you want to work for.
2. Great work ethics are non-negotiable
Get the training and education required for your desired role, apply to companies, ask for what you want, and then put in your best.
Understand that some of your teammates may doubt your competence at first.
But if you consistently do well, things will generally improve thereafter. Simply showing what you can do goes a long way.
Subtle sexism is often ignored at work though, tips here.
3. Expect work to be physically tasking
Note that maintenance work can be physically demanding and challenging, especially in manufacturing facilities.
Therefore, physical fitness and stamina would be beneficial because you may occasionally need to:
- Spend long hours on your feet.
- Bend or squat to inspect equipment.
- Push or pull machines, carry tools and spare parts, and similar.
The ability to stay concentrated while exhausted will require a certain level of mental strength so this job is definitely not for everyone, men or women.
Connect with other maintenance workers and managers!
It’s a great way to expand your network and learn from others that might have more experience in the field, or are entering the sector.
What struggles do they have?
How did they overcome X or Y?
Do they get paid for being on-call or remain near facilities? How do they see the future of industrial maintenance?
There are also online materials and inspiration, like this podcast about what it’s like to work in maintenance as a woman.
It can be intimidating to enter a male-dominated field, so it’s great to have other people there to support you.
While it’s true that the best person should get the job, personal biases and preconceived notions might get in the way of hiring great female workers.
If your company is looking to fill a number of maintenance positions, give female applicants an equal opportunity to step up.
You may be pleasantly surprised by the benefits of an inclusive workplace.
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Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS.
Limble is a modern, easy to use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.