Over 50 years of research has highlighted a clear link between women in leadership and increased business performance, yet statistics show that women are still in comparatively short supply throughout industries such as manufacturing, construction and engineering – particularly when it comes to management and director-level positions.

The most recent data available show that women make up 9.1 percent of the construction industry in the United States. Of these only 31 percent hold professional and managerial positions. In the manufacturing sector, women make up 29 percent of the workforce.

Much attention has been paid to how women can be encouraged to work within these industries, yet we must place further focus on how, once they qualify and recruit them, male-dominated organizations can retain and develop female talent and a greater number of female leaders.

Hidden Opportunities

The lack of female leadership in manufacturing, construction and engineering comes down to a combination of factors. These industries simply aren’t promoted enough in schools as a desirable career choice – particularly for women – yet school is when young people often realize their aspirations and choose their career paths. There are numerous functions other than engineers and technicians supporting these industries that are seldom talked about.

There are rewarding careers that demand aspirational talent, but those roles aren’t given enough exposure to capture the imaginations of young women. This lack of exposure impacts recruiters who are actively seeking a diverse mix of male and female candidates but finding a higher number of men.

Women are typically well represented in HR, marketing and public relations, and junior functions in these professions often attract women into organizations before they begin their upward trajectory through the companies’ hierarchy. However, in the manufacturing, construction and engineering, these functions are commonly outsourced, providing further explanation to why these industries generally lack female leadership.

The Parameters of Diversity

If organizations are serious about increasing the number of women they employ, they must take a proactive approach. Some are beginning to recognize the importance of nurturing more diverse workforces, yet many don’t know where to start. Mentoring schemes are an effective way to address this problem by facilitating the development of women into management positions by helping them to identify role models. However, these schemes often exclude male mentors and solely rely on senior female mentors, which side-steps the collaborative approach that is required to solve the problem.

When women are mentored by men in senior positions, they and their organizations benefit from the sharing of different mindsets. The obvious route forward for organizations is not to focus solely on attracting more female talent but also to attract and retain a generally diverse pool of talent, not just in terms of gender but also in terms of race, background and experience. Organizations can further support this diversity by encouraging employees to network outside of their job function.

Through a varied collective of individuals working together, approaching challenges from different angles and differing backgrounds, organizations can meet their objectives more efficiently and effectively. Companies can create additional training opportunities that promote group activity and encourage collaboration, as well as encouraging proactive involvement in extracurricular events such as fundraisers and corporate social events.

Developing the Collective

To inspire and support the development of female talent – or any talent that is under-represented in leadership – organizations must cultivate pools of talent that can develop and grow together. But individuals must also be able to work toward their own goals.

While e-learning is widely recognized as an appropriate solution for large, dispersed organizations to support employee training and development, many e-learning platforms offer a one-size fits all solution that only provides the opportunity for self-study without the opportunity for shared experiences through group sessions. If companies can provide their future leadership talent with blended solutions that provide elements of both self-study and face-to-face group learning, the talent pool can grow stronger through shared experiences, providing a support network. Learning science tells us that individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills and sense of self is enhanced through social interactions.

By blending workshops with online training, there are greater opportunities for successful development through virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations as well as one-to-one and group sessions. As well as being better for the employee, this approach enables companies to adapt their training quickly and easily to reflect the technological advancement and changing market environments in construction, manufacturing and engineering industries. This training positions women as strong, capable leaders in an increasingly disruptive business landscape.

When it comes to inspiring women to become leaders in construction and manufacturing, rolling out development programs that combine face-to-face training with mentoring schemes incorporating senior men and women, along with opportunities for group activity, are all positive ways to broaden a company’s pool of future leadership potential and succeed as a business.