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The ABCs of DEI

March 12, 2021
The changing social climate has companies reevaluating their approaches to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The changing social climate has companies reevaluating their approach to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Many businesses faced a call for action in 2020 to clearly state their positions on the social justice and civil rights issues of the day. This has left employers wondering how best to respond, particularly if they haven’t done so in the past. There are many best, or even good, practices for cultivating a workplace that promotes a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) while also supporting manufacturers' overall business objectives.

Ideally, getting DEI right this year is a priority for employers, including those that may be federal contractors subject to affirmative action laws and regulations seeking to strengthen their commitments and strategies.

 For many manufacturers, considering the following questions may help:

  • Where are we now? What DEI metrics do we currently collect, including those that relate to hiring, promoting, and retaining? What are our metrics telling us?
  • What are our goals and how will we hold ourselves accountable? Where will we memorialize our goals, e.g., a DEI action plan or affirmative action plan?
  • Do we want to be an employer-of-choice for DEI issues, or are we satisfied to simply stay out of the news and off social media in terms of negative press?
  • Based on our goals, what internal and external resources will we need?
  • Which leaders will drive our DEI initiatives?
  • If a public statement or internal communication needs to be made, who will make it?
  • Do our current leaders have the skillset necessary to speak competently on DEI issues?
  • What is our baseline knowledge across the enterprise? Is there training that should occur? How will this occur and who will participate?
  • Do our outreach efforts attract a diverse applicant pool, or should they be expanded or elaborated to reach more diverse talent?
  • Should we have a DEI committee and/or affinity or employee resource groups?

Necessary Core Components for a Strong Program

Manufacturers looking to implement successful DEI programs this year would do well to keep in mind the following components:

Consider training all employees, not just leaders and managers. Some states may have certain requirements for anti-discrimination training. However, consider whether such trainings are sufficiently robust and tailored to the workplace to meet any DEI goals. For example, a typical training might include an overview of internal policies, relevant employment laws and appropriate workplace behavior. Trainings should be tailored to the specific workplace environment and its needs (e.g., manufacturing facility, plant floor, office, etc.). The reality is that a workplace in 2021 may need training to cover implicit bias, micro-aggressions and the bystander conundrum. Furthermore, the most successful training programs often utilize a live and/or interactive element and involve, or even feature, senior leaders.

Consider conducting a DEI audit or needs assessment and include senior leaders. Assessments for DEI will allow for a better understanding of what is in place and whether it is working, in addition to helping to shape any goals for the future.

For manufacturers that are federal contractors subject to affirmative action laws, consider reviewing the affirmative action plan(s) in detail with senior leaders and re-evaluating the company’s efforts and strategies.Consider marketing to, and recruiting from, a more diverse talent pool. This might include bringing in a consultant for determining strategies for including, or concentrating resources on, certain communities or organizations in an employer’s hiring initiatives to expand the pool of applicants.

Consider looking at retention and promotion just as closely as hiring. Looking at hiring is critical; however, without assessing retention and promotion and looking for trends, the metrics around hiring may be more challenging to analyze.

Consider reporting key metrics, initiatives and trends periodically to the board of directors. Any director would be well-served to keep a keen eye on DEI issues in 2021, as such issues could affect performance.

Consider whether a DEI committee would best support business initiatives related to these issues. If it would be helpful, then subsequent considerations will include which employees to include, which leaders to include, what metrics will be shared with the committee, what the ground rules will be for discussions, and how best to track progress, among many other factors.

Consider whether affinity or employee resource groups would support DEI goals. Such groups often include members who are linked by a common social identity, life experience or characteristic, such as race, gender, age or sexual identity. An employer may create these groups to provide support for its employees and to help promote mentoring and networking opportunities for its employees, which can help increase employee satisfaction and support recruitment and retention of diverse employees.

Getting DEI right in 2021 is achievable, and manufacturers that engage and involve employees across different levels and departments—while keeping in mind the considerations outlined above—will be ahead of the curve. A notable key to a successful DEI program will be crafting a sustainable strategy tailored to the manufacturer’s business and being able to proactively adapt to avoid having employees see DEI as a “check-the-box” exercise. Competent legal counsel can be a helpful resource for manufacturers in creating, expanding, or restructuring their DEI initiatives to achieve positive results and stay compliant with relevant laws. Dynamic DEI initiatives that include active participation from management will help foster and promote an inclusive workplace and allow manufacturers to experience the benefits that come with a more diverse workforce.

Abby M. Warren and Kayla N. West also contributed to this article.

Britt-Marie K. Cole-Johnson, Rachel V. Kushel, Abby M. Warren, and Kayla N. West are all members of Robinson+Cole’s Labor and Employment Group.  Cole-Johnson focuses her practice on counseling private sector employers, ranging from NYSE and NASDAQ companies, multi-national corporations, nonprofit health care organizations, and educational institutions to manufacturers, in all areas of employment law.  Kushel counsels clients on all employment law and workplace human resource issues. 

Warren focuses her practice on counseling private sector employers, including multinational corporations, health care organizations, educational institutions, and manufacturers, in all areas of employment law. West focuses her practice on representing private sector employers in labor and employment matters as well as defending employers in federal and state court and before administrative agencies.

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