Despite an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, U.S. manufacturers continue to have trouble finding help. For example, ac-cording to the Precision Metalforming Association, 69 percent of U.S. metalworking companies have job openings. However, 91 percent of those companies are experiencing challenges finding qualified employees, and 42 percent describe that difficulty as “severe.”

Ironically, there’s a vast pool of workers that manufacturers have not fully tapped—women. Across all manufacturing sectors, women are underrepresented in the workforce. While women represent nearly half the total labor force, they only comprise a quarter of the workforce in durable goods manufacturing. The proportion of women in leadership roles at manufacturers also lags behind other industries. Whereas 4 percent of all businesses have female CEOs, only 2 percent of manufacturers have female CEOs.

Beyond filling a need for skilled workers, hiring and promoting women is smart business. A recent study by Catalyst Inc. found that Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women officers had a 35 percent greater return on equity than companies with fewer women executives.

Manufacturers are making slow progress, at least according to ASSEMBLY’s annual State of the Profession survey. In 2003, 4 percent of manufacturing and design engineers and managers were women. In 2012, that ratio was 8 percent. Clearly, however, more needs to be done.

Last year, Deloitte Consulting and the Manufacturing Institute embarked on a project to understand why manufacturers are not attracting, retaining and advancing their share of talented women. Their thought-provoking report offers 10 strategies for reversing the trend. (Download the report here:

As with any cultural change in manufacturing, whether it’s lean, green or workforce diversity, success depends on top-level commitment. Senior management must make diversity programs a business priority. Hiring goals should be communicated throughout the organization, and management incentives should be tied to meeting them.

Manufacturers should also strive to create a more flexible work environment. Of course, that’s easier said than done on assembly lines, but manufacturers that are able to rethink when and where work gets done will have a competitive advantage in the talent market. To that end, manufacturers should consider shifting from a “presence-driven” culture to a “results-driven” culture. Customized career paths are another tactic that many companies are using to promote flexibility. Replacing the career ladder with a career lattice allows employees to make lateral and vertical moves.

Sponsorship is an effective tactic to support advancement of women into leadership positions. A sponsor advocates for an individual and takes responsibility for that person’s development and professional progress. Customized learning and development programs are also vital.

These are just a handful of the report’s suggestions. If your organization is in dire need of skilled workers, engineers and managers, consider hiring more women.