Inclusiveness fosters greater internationalisation, increased business growth and higher R&D&I activity

As we approach International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is time to reflect on the position of women in manufacturing. Although women are still under-represented in the sector, the recent special report “Women in Manufacturing: Impact of Women on Industrial Competitiveness” found a strong correlation between gender diversity and profitability. EIT Manufacturing is pleased to be collaborating in this study.

We took the opportunity to speak to Cristina Oyón, Director of Technology, Innovation and Sustainability at SPRI, the Basque Business Development Agency in Spain. As leader of the Women in Manufacturing expert group of the World Manufacturing Foundation, she shares her insights from this important study and tells us why companies should foster an environment that empowers women in all aspects of the business.

What inspired your advocacy for gender equality?

I have always worked in the field of technology and innovation, recently integrating sustainability to enhance industrial competitiveness. I had not given serious consideration to gender issues in the workplace until 2020 when the World Manufacturing Foundation invited me to lead the international expert group “Women in Manufacturing”.  Despite frequently being the only woman at the table in my professional activity, I had previously accepted this as quite normal. When I started to analyse the data, my perspective shifted: although women make up 50% of the population, they only represent an average of 20% in industrial activity and a mere 9% in senior positions. Addressing this issue requires a significant cultural transformation at all levels and we decided in Spri to start the transition pathway with a study that strengthens the link between gender perspective in business and increased competitiveness. As United Nations said: “Gender equality is no longer just a matter of human rights, but a fundamental question to ensure competitiveness and economic recovery.”

Could you provide an overview of the key findings of the study?

Our research has empirically proven that gender diversity in industrial companies is clearly correlated with profitability. A methodology to analyze the correlation between gender equality and competitiveness was proposed. The model has been tested with data from 500 companies based in the Basque Country and the most-egalitarian companies on the study score better in competitiveness than the least-egalitarian. Qualitative indicators such as the employment of women at all levels of the organization, as well as the implementation of gender inclusive governance practices, have been identified as drivers of improved competitiveness. Such inclusive approaches have demonstrated the potential to foster greater internationalisation, increased business growth, and higher R&D&I activity within companies.

Industry often fails to create proper conditions for women to thrive in the industrial environment.

Cristina Oyón

What are some of the main challenges faced by women in industry in terms of career progression and participation?

First main challenge is for women to access industrial workplaces. Three out of four women don’t even consider manufacturing as a potential career. They do not feel attracted to such a career path because of stereotypes that prevent them from envisaging themselves in these positions. Manufacturing industries are not attractive to women mainly because they are male-dominated sites. Moreover, the presence of women is still limited in STEM careers, from early education to university studies, which limits their access to high value-added industrial activities.

Women are also lost along the pipeline due to barriers towards professional development and leadership. Women make up on average 33% of junior level staff but only 15% of senior level staff. Industry often fails to create proper conditions for women to thrive in the industrial environment. Glass ceiling prevents women from reaching the top levels of leadership. These development barriers also impact directly on the lack of women-role models in the industry.

What strategies or initiatives do you think companies can implement to promote a more inclusive and gender diverse industrial workforce?

The manufacturing industry needs to make itself attractive to women. The interests of half the population must be considered in an environment which was designed by men, for men.  Companies must foster a culture where all employees work towards recognising and minimising gender biases, ensuring equal opportunities, and prioritising work-life balance to lead the process of reducing the gender gap.

To ensure women to thrive, actions in favor of an equitable work environment, such as equal pay for equal value and the development of gender equality plans, are recommended. In order to promote women towards leadership levels, actions related to their inclusion in different areas of decision-making positions are also welcome.

How did the collaboration with EIT Manufacturing benefit this study?

The research conducted allows us to verify that there is a positive relationship between the equality level of companies and their competitiveness in a representative sample of Basque industrial companies. We consider this research lays the foundation for further advancement by extending the application of this methodology to diverse contexts beyond the Basque region.  In this regard, we are currently working to prove whether this relationship holds in a wider dispersion of companies at European level. We are collaborating with EIT Manufacturing to disseminate the results so far and to extend this analysis to their ecosystem of companies. Preliminary results with these new data already suggest positive trends and we hope to be able to share them in the coming months. We are currently seeking participation from more industrial private companies across Europe to gather insights and data for this analysis at the European level.

How do you see the future of gender diversity and inclusion in industry following this study and what would be the next steps to shape that future?

In our opinion, the conclusions drawn from this research hold massive potential as a motivational tool for the implementation of gender inclusive policies in companies. By recollecting data and empirically demonstrating the positive correlation between gender inclusivity and competitiveness, these findings provide a case study for organizations and policymakers to prioritize gender equality. The evidence of this research highlights the benefits that can be gained through inclusive policies, such as increased competitiveness, internationalisation, growth, and innovation. With this knowledge, stakeholders should be more motivated to implement gender equality policies and promote environments that empower women in all aspects of the business. These results may serve as a powerful incentive for driving positive change and inspiring collective efforts towards creating more inclusive and equitable workplaces, ultimately benefiting both business and society as a whole.

Interested in contribuiting data?

SPRI is currently watching out for more industrial private companies across Europe to gather insights and data for the analysis at European level. We encourage you to contact them at