Plant & Works Engineering
How Made Smarter is empowering women in manufacturing
Published:  05 March, 2020

Ahead of International Women’s Day  - March 8, industry trailblazers Andrea Thompson (BAE Systems), Andrea Hough (ATEC Engineering Solutions) and Donna Edwards (Made Smarter) said that manufacturing SMEs can inspire a generation and close the gender gap

The digital transformation of manufacturing has the potential to kick start a golden age for women in the industry. The number of girls’ participating in STEM subjects at A-level and degree level has increased by a quarter in the last decade*.

This pipeline of engineering talent has found its way into manufacturing, which has seen a slow but steady growth in the number of women in the industry, over the same period. This influx has resulted in an organic increase in women in leadership roles.

Andrea Thompson has worked her way up from supervising on the shop floor to the top floor and is now managing director for Europe & International Programmes at BAE Systems.

She is now aiming to inspire the next generation of women to follow suit through her role as chair of the Made Smarter Commission's North West Pilot.

Thompson has witnessed significant change during her 30-year career in the automotive and aerospace sectors.

“When I started in manufacturing it was another world,” she said. “I was one of very few women going into the automotive industry – particularly the manufacturing end of it. Women’s interest in the sector just wasn’t there back then in any large numbers.

“I worked on the shop floor, amongst mostly unionised, older, males. The facilities, machinery and processes were so different too. Running a manufacturing business was very manual involving Excel spreadsheets, lots of paper, and counting how many pieces had been made or processed. Data analysis was also extremely manual.

Today, the manufacturing industry paints a completely different picture, Thompson said, no more so than at BAE Systems. Of the 10,000 people working from its Lancashire site, 20% are women including 500 engineers. Almost a quarter of new starters through BAE’s UK apprenticeship programmes last year were female, while the number of women in senior management positions is rising.

“The amount of progress is incredible,” Thompson said. “Today, the environment has a much higher percentage of females, and in all kinds of ranks. They’re on the shop floor, working with machinery, in R&D, in management and senior leadership. Women are everywhere now.”

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