Six ways to improve gender diversity at manufacturing sites

Meet Dani Mata, a Site Manager in Vilafranca, Spain who’s passionate about developing a diverse, engaged and high performing team. Find out how Vilafranca came to be one of our most gender diverse manufacturing sites and why we think that’s important.

“Vilafranca, Spain is a diverse site, as the numbers can attest,” says Dani Mata, Site Manager. “Women currently make up 39% of the site – that’s 39% in operations, 36% in management roles and 50% in my direct team. For us, it’s more than clear that diversity benefits our productivity. Different perspectives bring creativity, problem solving and management thinking, all things that enhance the employee experience and our performance.

“While there is no handbook on achieving gender diversity – every company is different – there are a few important elements to getting it right.”

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Management support

Use data to back your proposals and make a convincing argument.
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Good communication

Communication is key both with current employees and prospective candidates.

Connect with social issues

Get colleagues thinking about what it takes to create a welcoming workplace.

With these general principles in hand, let’s check out the six specific lessons we can learn from Vilafranca’s success in improving gender diversity at their manufacturing site.


1. Invest in better job conditions and HSE&S

“Since jobs performed in manufacturing operations have traditionally been perceived as for men, in the past there some areas of our site made up exclusively of men,” explains Dani. “About seven years ago, we started to question the way we worked.

“We realized a few things. Due to a lot of investment by the company, job conditions had improved. And our focus on areas like health, safety, environment and security (HSE&S); process automation; and equipment upgrades had also opened more doors to women in production. At the same time, women were starting to apply with the same amount of industry experience. This would come to fundamentally change the makeup of our site.”

"As Site Manager since March 2021, I want Vilafranca to be known in the community as a reference point in safety, sustainability and diversity. In that respect, I’m working to continue the positive trend of my predecessors.”

2. Be more welcoming with proper workwear and facilities

The changes required to make manufacturing sites more welcoming to women aren’t always so big. One example is properly fitted workwear. Previously, many sites would assign women a small-sized men’s outfit. Now AkzoNobel advises our sites to provide women with outfits designed for them, as well as making sure there are designated locker rooms for both men and women. Being open to flexible working arrangements is another easy way to make your working environment more attractive to all. 


3. Educate people managers

We know that leaders like Dani play a pivotal role in shaping culture by role-modelling inspiring behaviors. That’s why we created an inclusive leadership guide to spark ideas and give examples of how leaders can create an environment where everyone feels included. This has been translated into 16 different languages and includes ways for managers to share learnings with their teams. 

Since we’ve also made training on unconscious bias mandatory for all employees as part of their onboarding, our people managers are encouraged to discuss these topics openly within their teams.


4. Increase development and networking opportunities

One of our areas of focus at AkzoNobel is to increase the share of women across all levels of the organization. Women are now proportionally represented in all our talent pools (at least 35%) and we support their advancement with additional development options such as personal branding and interview skills training or mentoring.

Employee networks, where people can make new connections, share experiences and grow talent together, are also a great way to provide much needed support and sense of belonging – especially in areas of the company that aren’t yet very gender diverse. Last year, we launched our global Women Inspired Network. It’s growing fast with local chapters across the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, the US, Brazil, Argentina, Dubai, India, China and Singapore.


5. Implement gender diversity targets throughout the organization

As part of our long-term diversity and inclusion commitments as a company, in 2021 we tasked each executive leadership team with driving a specific business unit or function level action plan aimed at strengthening gender diversity in their department. 

AkzoNobel is also one of the leading European companies in the industrial and technological sectors that has signed a pledge to #EmbraceDifference. We’ve committed to increasing female representation at the senior executive level to 30% by 2025. You can learn more about this initiative by reading the full case study.


6. Align values with recruiters

“Our main partners for recruiting know that we believe in diversity and we do not exclude candidates on the basis of gender,” says Dani. “This was a challenge at the beginning because we had to break many stereotypes to create the welcoming environment we wanted to have at our site. Now it’s our normal. We’ve moved on to promoting female operators into supervisor positions. It takes time, but gender diversity is now part of our DNA at Vilafranca.”

Hiring targets at AkzoNobel overall include reaching a 50/50% gender balance in new hires for middle management and executive levels.


Our success comes down to proud people 

“I don’t see a future in complex operations and process without the help of the technology and our diverse, passionate and innovative people,” says Dani. “What I like most about working at AkzoNobel is the great potential we have. We can be thinking about a project and verify that the same thing has been implemented in another site on the other side of the world, then talk to them about it the very next day. It’s a rare advantage.”

Put yourself in the picture

AkzoNobel is committed to building a diverse and inclusive organization where people feel included, respected and fully engaged.

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