Chad Harrison investigates the role of women in manufacturing and heavy industries

In celebration of International Women’s day Chad Harrison International looks at the landscape of senior management roles held by women and what can be done to improve the situation.

Since 2000, the number of female leaders in politics, excluding monarchs and figureheads has more than doubled. However, of the 193 UN member states, the current number of female leaders is nine heads of state and eight heads of government. This is far from equal and 100 years on from women achieving the vote in the UK, there is still much work to do.

How is this reflected in the business world and what needs to change to ensure more women reach the top of the organogram?

Women in business

Client opinion

Ambition is not the only factor

Elena is a Regional Business Unit Head for a German chemical company. She has full responsibility for sales and operations in 18 countries, supplying industrial gas for production and development purposes. Here, she provides her expert opinion on female representation in the chemical sector and what can be done to achieve equality.

What skills are important in your sector?

Leadership, P&L management, building and developing strong teams, business acumen, creativity, customer focus, strategic thinking, diplomacy and communication.

How have you found being a woman in your sector?

It’s a bit lonely and the sector lacks role models who are women in leadership – not many women in this sector. But I find it interesting, exciting, exhilarating, fun and rewarding.

Why do you think there are fewer women working in your sector?

The field of chemical engineering has been dominated by men over decades. The industry, while it is working on embracing diversity and inclusion, is still rather conservative when it comes to embracing women leaders from various backgrounds outside of engineering.

Women in leadership

"There may be a potential unrecognized bias when it comes to promoting leaders to the highest positions."

Women in engineering

"Don't be distracted unnecessarily by the fact that you may be one of the few women around, be a great leader and achieve consistent results."

What is preventing women breaking the glass ceiling into C-suite roles?

Hiring and candidate selection policies are one reason, in my opinion – first and foremost, engineers are being recruited, not necessarily leaders with a proven track record, no matter the industry or the diploma they happen to have in their past.
Also, industries that seem to have plant construction or dangerous goods associated with them seem to be more men dominated, historically.
In addition, the Boards of companies like mine are predominantly male – there may be a potential unrecognized bias when it comes to promoting leaders to the highest positions.

What are the personal attributes required to achieve senior level success?

I would say leadership – that is what I would put as a cornerstone and a strong track record of results achievement. Although it seems, in this industry, the subject matter expertise is being valued very highly as well. I come from a completely different industry, so my engineering knowledge is not that deep – it will be interesting to see what I am going to be able to achieve.

As of February 2018, women currently, hold 26 of the 500 CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.[1] That equates to just 5.2%. We’ve outlined how that compares to women at other levels of the business, including senior management, board seats and total employees as a whole.

“If you are alone you are a hostage, if you are two you are in danger of becoming suffragettes, if you are three you become normality, if you are four or more it’s balanced.”

Ursula Saint Leger,  Senior Vice President HR – Member of the executive committee – Aptar.

The number of women in C-suite level senior roles tops out at 24%. One-third of global businesses have no women in senior management roles.

Women in Life Sciences

Women are scarce in scientific research and development. Globally, 28.8% of those employed in the sector are women. Women are also more likely to leave Scientific, technological, engineering and maths (STEM) careers than men.

In the European Union, women are slowly closing the gap and in 2016 40.1% of scientists and engineers were women.

Only 12.2% of women hold board-level positions.

Employed in scientific research

Board representation

Leave rates

How can we operate better?

After analysing the statistics and hearing real-life examples, what can be done to improve equality in the workplace? A report by found that women get fewer of the ‘hot jobs’ required to advance in the workplace.

Highly visible, mission-critical roles and international experiences are hallmarks of ‘hot jobs’ and often lead to career advancement. Catalyst concluded that women get fewer of these opportunities and as a result, it hampers their progression.


Lean In is an organisation promoting the empowerment of women in the workplace. It is committed to helping women achieve their ambitions. A recent campaign is aimed at recommending men in senior positions commit to mentoring women.

Mentoring is critical to the success of women across industries and people with mentors are more likely to get promoted. Astonishingly, women are 24% less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders. Interestingly, by mentoring women organisations benefit from diverse leadership which results in higher profits.

Women are often excluded

Commit to equal access

Make sure the women you work with get equal access to opportunities.

Women have fewer sponsors

Advocate for a woman

Put women’s names forward for stretch assignments and promotions