On 22 February 2024, the Packaging Innovations exhibition in Birmingham hosted a Women in Manufacturing panel to discuss the gender gap across UK manufacturing.

The panel invited Tata Steel manager for steel packaging recycling Nicola Jones, British Contract Manufacturers and Packers Association CEO Emma Verkaik, PHD Marketing managing director Jo Stephenson and the Printing Charity’s director of marketing and engagement Liz Ross Martyn. The moderator was Zoi Roupakia, research associate at the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge.

According to research from the University of Cambridge, while women represent almost half the labour force in the UK, they account for only 26% of all workers in the manufacturing sector.

To encourage diversity and inclusivity across the industry, key stakeholders including academics, practitioners and professionals established the Women in Manufacturing (WIM) initiative in 2022.

In recent research from the Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, 53% of respondents cited limited awareness or visibility of opportunities as a barrier to entering the manufacturing workplace. Lack of female role models was also considered a hindrance and affected the overall inclusivity of the industry.

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“Today’s generation of schoolchildren will have job titles which have not yet been conceived. To ensure the sustainability of the steel packaging industry and indeed, all manufacturing, we must showcase the opportunities available to inspire the next generation of skilled professionals,” commented Jones during the panel discussion.

Tata Steel runs an education programme that aims to highlight the breadth of roles available in steel manufacturing and the importance of packaging recycling.

Speaking to Packaging Gateway for International Women’s Day 2023, Stephenson stated: “Women are clearly represented in design and the more traditional functions in HR and customer service, but sorely lacking in technical, manufacturing and leadership roles, with very few managing directors present. So there are gaps there for aspiring women in packaging to fill.”

As International Women’s Day 2024 approaches on 8 March, companies across the manufacturing value chain will be pushed to reassess any gender gaps in their operations.