March 17, 2023

By Paul K. Steck

While not always obvious to the casual observer, diversity in the workplace has been shown to be beneficial to employers and to employees. Diversity is not a new concept: Our company has embraced this practice for many years. Today, it is experiencing a rebirth in the workplace.

By recruiting, hiring, training, and promoting a diverse workforce, an employer can simultaneously enhance the company environment, develop and nurture a team spirit, strengthen its ties to the local community, and engage in socially responsible behavior.

When your workforce is made up of people with different backgrounds, religions, and vocations, and you embrace this diversity and learn from each other, everyone benefits—from the bottom line to improved customer service. Diversity creates a more dynamic environment that fosters innovation and challenges your company’s perspectives on what its products should look like or how they should work.

Diversity and inclusion drive business performance. According to an insight document published by Deloitte in 2021, Creating Pathways for Tomorrow’s Workforce Today, DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) has been proven to lead to increased productivity, better organization management, and a competitive advantage in the industry. An analysis of Fortune 500 manufacturing companies reveals that companies fostering diversity and building inclusive environments are more likely to have stronger financial performance—more than half of those surveyed reported higher revenues and profits than their peers.

A 2021 Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute DEI study revealed that 63 percent of surveyed manufacturers link the business benefits of DEI to an enhanced ability to attract, retain, and develop talent. Although most of these manufacturers have already implemented DEI training in their talent management programs, fewer than one-fourth of respondents find these programs impactful in retaining employees.

Training alone won’t lead to more equitable outcomes. Going beyond training could be critical to prevent adverse impacts on overall management performance, company innovation progress, and even the bottom line. While setting a company’s values is an important first step, business leaders should take tangible actions to create and sustain a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture.

To create a diverse workforce, one should focus on hiring employees based on their skills, experience, and attitude—rather than on their gender, ethnicity, race, or age. By doing so, candidate evaluation will be blind to our own hidden prejudices—what may border upon what is often referred to as microaggression, a form of unconscious bias. This will create a more balanced staff whose benefits should be obvious.

Witness the willingness of foreign-born workers to learn new skills. In some cases, they may have learned a trade before they came to America and yet be willing to train in a new field. Women may be drawn to non-traditional careers in areas like construction and manufacturing. Consider the vast wealth of knowledge and experience the often-overlooked older workers have to offer to your company. Seasoned workers can mentor younger recruits newly joining the workforce while younger workers may help them upgrade their technology skills.

To assist in recruitment and HR efforts, think about the usefulness of staff members with varying language skills. These individuals can help you tap into ethnic sub-communities not necessarily available to you otherwise and thereby aid you in prospecting new business and workers; moreover, they may even be able to help you bridge a foreign language barrier.

For example, when a small plastics fabricator called a college student into the office from the shop floor to inquire about a rumor that a co-worker had an ill family member, management’s concern involved possible disease spread. The student—who was fluent in French—was able to discern from the Haitian employee that someone had passed away in his household.

Consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles published a thesis, Enhancing Diversity: The Manufacturing Mind-Set Advantage, in which the author offers that “manufacturing companies have not shown as much progress in diversity and inclusion as some other sectors—but they have the capacity to become leaders by applying the distinctive problem-solving skills they use for other business challenges.” The writer, Jonathan M. Graham, suggests an approach built upon four key steps towards diversity recruiting best practices:

  1. Focus on a culture of inclusivity, starting at the top;
  2. Use data to understand the current state of diversity and as a touchstone to regularly measure progress;
  3. Get diverse future leaders in on the ground floor—and keep them;
  4. Set specific talent management goals and hold managers accountable.

A diverse workplace offers a sense of security and creates a comfort level that workers’ demographic characteristics will likely not make them feel out of place, since the whole workforce has varying attributes. This can lead to better work, improved interaction with co-workers, and a greater contribution to the overall work product.

Consider the value of inclusiveness regarding physically disadvantaged workers, as well. A young college graduate seeking employment in the financial sector was turned down because prospective employers could not see past his wheelchair. Today, he is ranked among the top financial advisors in the U.S. by Worth magazine. For years, the U.S. government has hired visually handicapped employees and provided assistive/adaptive devices for them. They have proven themselves as capable as, or more than, sighted employees.

Costs of a Workplace Lacking Diversity

Diversity is not simply something that an employer must do to comply with regulatory requirements. Companies that fail to proactively implement policies encouraging diversity will severely limit their potential for future growth. Diversity has the potential to enhance both productivity and staff relations, as well as foster good external community relations. Also, employees can feel disenfranchised, emotionally isolated, and unrecognized for their contributions in a non-diverse work environment—which often leads them to seek employment elsewhere.

Exothermic Molding Inc., a small, third-generation family-owned company in Kenilworth, New Jersey, is committed to creating and encouraging a diverse workplace. The company began employing Polish and German immigrants when founded decades ago. Today, it employs African American, Caucasian, Latino, and Asian employees on the shop floor, as well as in administration.

Paul K. Steck is the president of Exothermic Molding, Inc., a third-generation, family-owned specialty plastics molding company in Kenilworth, New Jersey that serves a variety of industries.

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