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Diversity & Inclusion in Manufacturers: Three Best Practices

As we remember the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., here are some strategies to ensure your company is hiring people by the content of their character.

As the nation prepares to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., it's a good moment for us to think critically about the state of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in manufacturing. And from the outset, the numbers don't look good — for example, while women account for approximately 47% of the overall U.S. workforce, they make up only 29% of the manufacturing workforce, according to one study.

What can manufacturers do to counteract this significant imbalance? Here are four best practices.

1. Pledge to provide equal pay

This is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways to elevate awareness around D&I at your company. Even if you don't think making such a formal pledge is necessary given your organization's commitment to equal pay, the numbers show that there's always room for improvement.

Indeed, according to recent research, 53% of employees believe unequal pay is the top factor negatively impacting gender inequality in the workforce. That research also found that nearly half of female workers (49%) would leave their jobs if they learned a male counterpart was making 25% more than them. So this is an issue you can't afford to tip-toe around.

If you aren't sure where your company currently stacks up when it comes to pay equality, consider using third-party benchmarks to validate your compensation packages and ensure you're paying everyone fairly. It's a simple best practice to adopt, yet only 20 to 25% of employers have done so, according to one study.

2. Tackle unconscious bias head-on

Unconscious biases are learned, deeply ingrained and universal stereotypes that influence our behaviors and judgments in ways we aren't even aware of. They're automatic and utterly outside of conscious thought, and they can make their way into the workplace undetected.

Research shows that nearly half of employees (49%) believe that these biases and stereotypes contribute to inequality at work. Yet, there are troubling signs that employers across the board aren't doing enough to combat unconscious bias. For starters, less than a third (30%) of employees right now are being offered training on unconscious bias, according to one study.

That same study also revealed that 54% of employees believe their employers could do more to promote gender equality — in other words, most of your employees are already on board with the need for training around unconscious bias and other D&I initiatives — you just need to make it happen.  When budgets are tight, consider offering 30-minute e-learning or in-person lunch and learn sessions in short intervals throughout the year.

3. Introduce reskilling and STEM training programs

Companies that create and implement training programs — particularly training programs geared toward STEM skills — stand to benefit on multiple levels.

For starters, while these programs are a boon for all employees, they're especially important to the professional development of women and members of other underrepresented groups.

Why? Think about it: With women so disproportionately underrepresented in manufacturing generally and STEM fields specifically, the only way a new cohort of qualified, experienced female candidates is going to emerge is through access to new training opportunities. And these types of training opportunities, in turn, will enable manufacturing to continue to be a center of innovation.

Plus, when employees have opportunities to grow along with your company, they tend to stick around — so you'll likely find you have a more loyal, engaged workforce over the long haul.

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One Randstad study found that 54% of employees believe their employers could do more to promote gender equality.

Partner with a staffing company

If you're struggling to source, attract and hire more diverse candidates, partnering with a staffing company might be the solution you need.

However, in order to develop an effective action plan and achieve your D&I goals, you'll need to have metrics in place to monitor them. That means thinking hard about what D&I looks like in your workplace: What%age of your current workforce (including leadership) is made up of underrepresented groups, and what should that number be?

This kind of change is unlikely to happen overnight, but by assessing and benchmarking where you stand today — and leveraging the large talent network of a staffing partner — you can begin to build the more diverse and inclusive workforce you'd like to see tomorrow.

Key takeaways

While the road to true inclusiveness is ultimately long, you don't have to walk it alone — two things that Martin Luther King Jr. seemed keenly aware of. In the words of Dr. King, "In the end, we will remember not the works of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." And already, there are some encouraging signs of progress. For example, one survey found that 58% of women currently employed in manufacturing say they have observed positive changes in the industry's overall attitude towards women over the last five years.

To bring about even greater change, start by taking simple steps. Begin by upping your communication efforts and formally affirming your commitment to D&I. You can also take steps to combat unconscious bias, pledge to be transparent about pay practices and consider working with a staffing partner to deliver on your goals.

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