Industryweek 1668 17033diversity1

The Business Case for Diversity

Aug. 8, 2008
Far from being just another feel-good initiative, diversity in the workforce has become a competitive advantage for manufacturers.

Having a diverse workforce is a competitive advantage and not merely a human resources initiative, according to Cate Roberts, director of diversity and community affairs at Textron Inc. The conglomerate, which is staffed with 44,000 employees and is comprised of Bell Helicopter, Cessna Aircraft Co. and many other companies, approaches diversity with a strategic objective.

"The three tenets of our business case are: Race for Talent, Need to Globalize and Innovation," explains Roberts. "We believe that diverse work teams create more innovative products and make us more competitive."

How does Textron embrace diversity? One way is through employee network groups, which include African-American, Asian-American, Generation Y, Native American, Hispanic, women and gay groups.

At W.R. Grace & Co., a producer of chemicals and materials with 6,500 employees located in more than 40 countries, diversity takes on a different meaning as the company prefers to move away from the traditional definition of race and gender. Grace's goal is to set up a structure that creates an inclusive environment in which diversity can flourish.

"We established a global diversity council that includes 20 people from 10 countries and 14 functions," explains Alfonso Gonzales, chairman of Grace's Diversity and Inclusion Council and director of Leadership Organizational Effectiveness. "Our goal is to provide a place where everyone feels their voices can be heard. The results of inclusion are increased production and innovation."

The company has developed a Diversity Toolkit as a point of reference to help employees discuss the attributes of diversity and discover inroads to tap into the expansive knowledge that comes with each culture. And these efforts add to the bottom line. Gonzales cites a study in which diverse teams outperformed non-diverse teams by 12% with respect to productivity.

To attract a diverse workforce, companies turn to mentoring and educational programs. At Textron, its year-long TXTConnect program pairs managers with employees -- many of whom come from diverse backgrounds -- to provide a well-rounded view of the company.

Recruiting efforts have paid off as well for Textron's Engineering Boot Camp Program, which boasts of a 90% hiring rate for its 75% diverse class. The first Boot Camp program took place in January 2008 at Bell Helicopter. Aerospace and mechanical engineering students from the local university, who were assisted by Bell engineers who had graduated less than three years ago, participated in designing a specific project. They toured five facilities and were flown to visit an assembly facility. The company feels this kind of hands-on learning experience appeals to students at the right time in their college experience.

Continually building on this effort, next year the company's Textron University will include in its curriculum a class entitled, "Doing Business Cross-Culturally." The program will address the issue of varying work traditions across different cultures.

Wider Definition of Culture

Although most companies wouldn't categorize military personnel as a separate culture, Advanced Technology Services Inc. (ATS) does. Over 30% of its 2,200-person workforce is comprised of former military members or current reservists. ATS manages services of production equipment maintenance, information technology and spare parts repair for manufacturers.

Summer internships are part of the ATS' student program created with Southern Illinois University's College of Engineering."Military personnel are a perfect fit for manufacturing. Their technical skills are excellent and their familiarity with a process-oriented system fits right in," says Jeff Owens, president of ATS. The company has hired a dedicated military recruiter, Holly Mosack, who previously served as a company commander for the 82nd Airborne Division in Fallujah, Iraq.

ATS is also looking to recruit the next generation of workers and has created a program called Technical Leadership in Manufacturing. Working with Southern Illinois University's College of Engineering, the company offers 30-40 college students tuition-free scholarships for their junior and senior years. A summer internship, which could be onsite for clients such as Caterpillar, is part of the program. Students receive training in courses as varied as Six Sigma and etiquette.

Convincing today's students that manufacturing is an exciting and fulfilling career is a challenge to many companies. "We demonstrate to students the fast-paced field of automation and show them how its dynamic applications impact factories," Owens says. "We also offer students a career path that includes working at various client sites so they gain different experiences."

ATS has created a program called Technical Leadership in Manufacturing to train workers.Since locating students is yet another challenge, manufacturers need to be tapped into social networks, notes John Hauger, vice president of client services for Global Lead Management Consulting, an international diversity management consulting firm. Job seekers are very sophisticated today, he points out, and companies should be tapped into Facebook and other social networking sites.

Recruiting employees who can connect with the customers and the community is essential, Hauger notes, adding that leadership must have a clear understanding of inclusion. "Cultural dexterity is essential. Leaders and managers must have the ability to move between various cultures and tailor their communication and problem-solving skills in a way that is comfortable for each culture."

For example, when working with a U.S.-based auto parts supplier that was setting up shop in Japan, employees were immersed in cultural activities as a way to learn the norms of the society. "It worked out well and other clients are using this method of cultural dexterity as well," says Hauger.

Widening the Talent Pool

Companies that actively pursue diversity find that the talent pool widens significantly. Non-traditional employees are how Sandra Westlund-Deenihan, president of Quality Float Works, views her workforce. Of her 26 employees, 11 are minorities, four are women and four are veterans. "We bring in non-traditional workers, such as low income people and women from shelters. We provide whatever skills people need to be successful," says Westlund-Deenihan, whose company produces metal float balls for a number of industries.

Quality Floats will hire people who might have disabilities in some areas but are great with their hands and are an asset to her operations. The company provides training for basic skills in math, English and communication and offers on-the-job training as well.

As the company grows and its product line expands, including a product that helps purify water in third-world countries, the workforce must remain constant and strong. For this reason Westlund-Deenihan will assist with the childcare needs of her employees by paying for their children to go to summer camp.

Addressing the needs of employees and providing a supportive environment is one reason that Air Products, a producer of gases and equipment, created a program called Two in a Box. "We look at this program as a personal tutor for our new employees. We find that it helps employees get up to speed very quickly," explains Norma Curby, vice president, strategic planning for the company, which employs 22,000 in 40 countries.

It is the exchange of ideas from a diverse workforce that fuels the future growth opportunities of the company, Curby points out, and to that end effective talent management is key to Air Products' growth.

"You never know where the next idea will come from," she says. "By bringing together people with diverse backgrounds, who have a variety of experiences, there are more actionable ideas. We find new ways to approach markets, our processes and our business model."


Talent Incubators

Siemens Boss says Group is Too German, White and Male

Companies Need To Hire Older Workers

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!