The Great American Makeover: Can Manufacturing Become a Women's Game?

Not long ago, I told you about Toyota USA’s commitment to growing the American manufacturing sector by funding education initiatives directed at closing the widening skills gap and creating new pathways to manufacturing careers.

Related: Not As Odd As It Looks: The Japanese Carmaker Giving to Boost U.S. Manufacturing 

Now, in yet another push to revive the sector, the GE Foundation is stepping in to rebuild American manufacturing by getting in touch with its feminine side—starting with a $100,000 grant to the Cleveland-based Women in Manufacturing.

The GE Foundation is investing in the belief that it can drum up new excitement for manufacturing careers by transforming the traditionally male-dominated industry into a more culturally inclusive space that appeals to women. The reasoning is sound:

While 80 percent of manufacturers report the impacts of skills gap, the industry also faces a shortage of women in the workforce, representing only 24 percent of the manufacturing labor force.

[With the] skills gap anticipated to grow to 2 million unfilled positions over the next decade…attracting this untapped resource is key to future development, growth, and success.

Our readers will know that the GE Foundation, like many of its corporate counterparts, is highly selective with its giving, with a sizeable majority of its grantmaking filtered through its Developing Futures program to—you guessed it—promoting STEM education. But this latest move, part of the Developing Skills branch of their program, isn’t necessarily a departure from GE’s giving philosophy; rather, it elucidates the bottom line of any corporate giving philosophy: give smart.

Women are increasingly outpacing men when it comes to education and skills development. Today, over 60 percent of college graduates holding bachelor’s degrees are women—a complete reversal of graduation gender breakdowns from 50 years ago—and increasingly, studies show that girls outperform boys in reading, math, and science literacy pretty much across the board by age 15.

Manufacturing champions of America, take note: Women constitute a promising pool of untapped talent that could be the key to a new era in American manufacturing, but $100K is hardly a game changer. Manufacturing’s gender gap is just one side of the same gender discrimination coin that keeps women out and their wages low. Here’s hoping that corporate America follows GE’s lead by taking both this challenge and opportunity to heart.

Related: GE Foundation: Grants for Science Education