For over 25 years Integra Systems commercial director Erika Hughes, has seen a lot of changes in Australian manufacturing. While the introduction of more women into the industry is definitely one of the changes on her list, she knows Australia has a long way to go before we achieve gender parity, and that may not even occur in her professional lifetime.
“It wasn’t long ago that I would go to manufacturing industry networks and find myself one of few women in the room, if not the only woman,” Hughes told Industry Update.
“I don’t feel quite as lonely anymore but it would be advantageous to the industry as a whole if there were more women involved. Research has shown that countries and specifically industry sectors flourish when there is a balance of genders and even strong female leadership.
“Men and women have different ways of going about things, which make for better decision-making and better business. Other industry sectors are doing it, and manufacturing still lags behind..”
Hughes believes the perception of traditional gender roles continues to play a strong part in keeping women out of the industry. For example, many women aren’t taught things that are hands-on, but there are women who love working with their hands in practical and mechanical ways that aren’t either art or craft-oriented.
Additionally, the misconception that you need to be an engineer or an industrial designer or even an assembly line assistant to work in manufacturing still prevails.
“It doesn’t have to be blue-collar employment in manufacturing,” Hughes said. “It can be really fun, cool, funky, creative and you can make a difference. Manufacturing encompasses the full range of vocations – from the factory floor to design, administration and sales and marketing. These are all places where women can help usher manufacturing into the future,” she said.
Hughes enjoys seeing women of all types and all ages at Integra Systems, because diversity is about so much more than just fresh, young graduates.
“I think Integra's team has been partly behind the supercharge of change in Australian manufacturing,” she adds. “It's the way we've chosen our people, the way we work with the government, how we work with universities, and the way we handpick our people who match our values. We don’t see age or race or gender, we see values, and that just naturally brings more women into our company.”
When asked how to change perceptions and address the gender imbalance, Hughes suggested, “Passing on this knowledge and building up the confidence in young people, young women especially, by exposing them to what the possibilities are, that’s where you start to get the interest and stimulate new lines of thinking.
“But, at the moment, I don’t think enough women know that this is possible.”