Recommendations for Action
Many employers are reporting difficulties with filling vacancies for middle-skill jobs in manufacturing, information technology, and transportation, distribution, and logistics. Common to many of the jobs with the highest projected job openings in these sectors are that they do not require a bachelor’s degree, pay family sustaining wages, and employ very few women. Indeed, occupational segregation in fast growing middle-skill occupations in manufacturing and transportation is striking, with women making up fewer than 10 percent of workers in many of them. Employers are losing out on half of the workforce, and on the half that has the higher and more rapidly rising educational attainment.
As the report has shown, women are more likely than men to work in middle-skill occupations, and they are more likely than men to invest in formal education and training. Yet, women are much more likely than men to work in middle-skill occupations with lower median earnings- in spite of equal or higher educational requirements. Tackling women’s underrepresentation in good middle-skill jobs will improve women’s earnings and the economic security of their families.
This report moves beyond stating that women and men often work in different jobs by highlighting that different occupations often require similar skills and attributes from women and men. Based on a focus on similarities- rather than on the unique skill set that any new worker would have to learn to become competent in an occupation- the report identifies occupations that share many of the attributes of the higher paying skill-shortage occupations, but are lower paid and employ many women. The report highlights these potential on-ramp occupations to demonstrate to employers that women working in these occupations may be good candidates for skills training and employment in the target shortage occupations. The pairing of well-paid target occupations with potential on-ramp occupations also provides information for women considering their careers.
Yet, in many ways, employers, policy makers, and workforce developers concerned with addressing skill shortages and improving women’s economic security are confronted with a ‘chicken & egg’ problem that goes beyond the similarity or differences between individual occupations. The scarcity of women in the target occupations can make women feel isolated, may expose them to harassment and discrimination, and, in jobs where skills acquisition depends on the training provided by senior co-workers, may make it hard for them to become fully-skilled. Having few women moreover makes these occupations less innovative in the way work is organized to respond to workers’ dual responsibilities, for paid work and for unpaid family work for children, or elderly parents or spouses who may need supports. When work is still organized as if workers had no responsibilities outside of the workplace, women don’t join, or join and leave the occupation, while the occupation recreates an isolating environment that pushes women out and hinders the occupation from ever evolving. Yet, given current and projected skill shortages, past attitudes of complacency may finally become too expensive and barriers to women may come down. Many employers have already adopted more inclusive and flexible working arrangements and provide examples of what can be done.
A 2012 report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute highlights the specific ways firms across different sectors can create more gender-inclusive environments that successfully retain female talent (Deloitte Development LLC and The Manufacturing Institute, 2012). These include targeted leadership, training, mentoring, and sponsorship programs for employees at all levels, flexible workplace policies, and a “results-driven” culture that discourages the notion that an employee must work the longest hours to be deemed successful. Steps include:
- Reviewing recruitment and outreach materials to ensure the use of inclusive language and images
- Ensuring that the channels for advertising vacancies and opportunities reach women as well as men
- Reviewing recruitment and selection processes to ensure that they are free of gender bias and affirmatively encourage female talent
- Ensuring that women, just as men, have adequate facilities, including protective gear that is appropriate to different body types and facilities that are sanitary and safe
- Actively encouraging an inclusive environment and clearly communicate that hostile behaviors, such as harassment and discrimination, are not acceptable.
- Communicating that women as well as men are expected to advance and thrive in the company
- Being deliberate: setting targets and measuring their company’s progress to greater gender inclusiveness.
Policymakers have several reasons for prioritizing greater gender integration in pathways to middle-skill occupations. When occupations are virtually single-sex and half of the potential workforce is left aside, bottlenecks in the labor market become worse, and productivity suffers because it is unlikely that such stark gender segregation truly reflects the underlying distribution of talent. Improving women’s access to higher paid middle-skill occupations is one way to address poverty and economic insecurity. The Department of Labor supports technical assistance on the inclusion of women in apprentice-able occupations through the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) grants (U.S. Department of Labor 2014). Its recently published guide Pre-Apprenticeship: Pathways for Women into High-Wage Careers pulls together good practice, resources, and references on serving women in pre-apprenticeship programs run by community training programs. Policymakers can:
- Fund technical assistance and support for employers and workforce developers seeking more diversity and inclusiveness within their organizations
- Help employers and workforce developers implement flexible working practices and supportive services that recognize the family care responsibilities of their workers; policies should be adjusted to recognize that families typically do not have someone at home to do child care, domestic work, or other tasks.
- Include progress toward gender equity in the monitoring and accountability frameworks that accompany receipt of public funding.
For Workforce Developers
Workforce developers, educators and trainers should assess and evaluate their recruiting and placement strategies to ensure that they attract and retain women as well as men. Additionally, they should address the lack of information regarding the opportunities and benefits of middle-skill occupations. Setting goals for the number of women applicants, participants, graduates and placements can help monitoring whether materials reach women as well as men, and whether training programs are equally successful for women and men.
Jobs for the Future, a non-profit focused on developing economic opportunities, together with Wider Opportunities for Women has created a Pink to Green Toolkit to help employers and workforce developers create career pathways and training supports for women to enter stable middle-skill higher-paying jobs (GreenWays 2012). The toolkit discusses methods for recruiting women, developing gender-inclusive curricula, identifying and preventing sexual harassment and hostile workplace behaviors, building job-readiness skills, and ensuring women’s health and safety in industries such as construction, manufacturing, and transportation.
Additional references and guides to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for women in workplaces, workforce development programs, and schools and colleges with the goal of increasing women’s share of well-paid middle-skill occupations are included in Appendix C and in this website’s Target Job Finder.