“What are your biggest pain points right now?”
This is a question I try to ask manufacturers who I meet for the first time and those who I am catching up with, to find out how I can help them in their daily challenges. Whether it is a small company or a large multinational corporation, talent attraction and retention is the most common answer among manufacturers. With a large portion of the manufacturing workforce reaching age 55 and older[i], and with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has seen a significant shortage of interested and skilled applicants. In order to meet the increased demand of attracting and retaining skilled workers, more companies are seeing the opportunity to evaluate and adopt diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives. These efforts help expand the pool of interested and talented candidates while encouraging new and existing workers to remain in the company’s pipeline. D&I efforts also help to ensure equal opportunities for hiring and retaining talent, while strengthening a workforce by positively shaping the workplace culture.
Increasingly, organizations across Canada are creating diversity and inclusion programs, establishing diversity task forces, hiring diversity officers and conducting diversity training. In December 2020, the Government of Canada announced the launch of the 50-30 Challenge, an initiative that sets two goals for the boards and senior management of each participating organization: “gender parity (50%) and significant representation (30%) of under-represented groups”. Since its launch, over 1200 organizations across Canada have signed up to participate. Why is D&I gaining steam? Research shows that effective D&I strategies make good business sense; more diverse organizations tend to outperform their peers in terms of financial and business outcomes, since the diverse workforce helps companies develop more creative, fresh approaches and solutions.
Commitment from the top
Just as with any other organizational initiative, companies must ensure buy-in and gain support from corporate leaders and senior management in order for D&I initiatives to be effective. Before launching a D&I program, leaders should discuss why supporting and implementing a D&I program is important for the organization. It is also important to understand how D&I fits into the current workforce culture. By having these discussions early on, leaders of the company are demonstrating a commitment to the initiative while holding them accountable in its implementation. By conveying a message to employees that D&I is important to the company, the likelihood of success increases. While the manufacturing sector typically has a strong focus on various production KPIs -- meetings are often about production metrics such as efficiencies and downtime -- model organizations consistently name safety and quality as their top priorities; D&I initiatives can be another priority to be added among them.
D&I Initiatives at the Workplace: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”
When introducing a new program or initiative, it is always a good idea to determine a baseline from which one can measure and evaluate the effectiveness or outcomes of the new program. At the onset of D&I program implementation, this may include looking at the demographic representation of the workforce (such as race, religion, colour, national origin, sex, disability, etc.), but also establishing subjective measures which could include employee engagement surveys, exit interviews, and annual reviews. These provide the means for a gap analysis that is useful particularly as the company strives to make improvements on the status quo. Such knowledge allow manufacturers to evaluate how other strategic business decisions such as recruitment efforts can be better aligned with their D&I initiatives.
In order to succeed in their D&I efforts, companies would also want to understand and address what might undermine their D&I initiatives. This could mean addressing issues such as discrimination and unconscious bias, and identifying barriers for attracting and retaining diverse talent. A successful D&I program would include training on how to identify and address unconscious bias. It would also help to evaluate the workforce culture in order to identify impediments to D&I initiatives. For example, are there certain “cliques” that form among shifts? Do work teams tend to engage in after-work social activities that are not inclusive to everyone in the team?
The Merits of Diversity and Inclusion Training
Diversity training programs provide a way for addressing biases and prejudices within a workplace. Prefaced by support from the company’s leaders, D&I training could set the tone for communicating and reinforcing the organization’s values and expectations for inclusive behavior. An effective D&I training strategy can educate employees on what diversity and inclusive thinking means in their daily interactions with colleagues, customers and vendors.
Implementing a diversity training program also helps reduce the risk of workplace discrimination and harassment claims. By being aware of concepts such as cultural competency, stereotypes, unconscious bias and workplace sensitivity, and learning ways to positively address associated challenges, employees can become better equipped to recognize those barriers for promoting diversity and inclusion within the workplace; being able to identify examples of unconscious bias can help in minimizing their impact. Hiring managers, as well as those not in a hiring role, can reflect and tackle their own unconscious biases, prompt themselves to speak and behave differently, and also help to build more diversity within the organization.
Embracing diversity in the workplace
As always, a company needs to “walk the talk” in order to foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Just as a solid safety training program and strong safety culture contributes to retaining talent, D&I training programs and a strong D&I culture help boost talent retention. As the company shows commitment to the initiative by having D&I training, and as employees see that they are represented and respected within the organization, employees are more likely to be happy and stay within the organization. Hence, employees are more likely to feel fulfilled by the work they do, and therefore strive for higher quality work. An inclusive and diverse workplace makes good business sense.
On June 24, EMC will welcome Dr. Wendy Cukier, Founder of the Diversity Institute, as our guest speaker for a virtual webinar on “Best Practices for Diversity & Inclusion Training at the Workplace”. Whether your company already has a fully-implemented D&I program, or perhaps you have just started on your D&I journey, this is an event you will not want to miss! Please RSVP if you wish to attend.