Taking manufacturing to the next level through equality, diversity, inclusion, and belonging  

Manufacturing has long been a male-dominated industry. Recent data shows that only 26 percent of the workforce is female, and 13 percent is from ethnic minority groups. Yet, diverse companies are statistically more likely to outperform competitors and make better business decisions.

Despite data proving that encouraging and celebrating diversity is a no-brainer for employee wellbeing and business success, shockingly, the Employer Survey 2022 by the Department for Work and Pensions found that one in five employees still see ‘no benefits’ to having a diverse workforce.

In the case of manufacturing, what was once a labor-intensive and dangerous job, has now developed to the point where advanced technology skills are highly needed but hard to find. Solving the industry’s diversity issues is, therefore, crucial to the resilience of manufacturing. Without it, the sector faces a rapidly worsening recruitment issue.

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An ageing workforce and a skills shortage
Many of the industry’s recruitment issues stem from dated perceptions of the skill set required for manufacturing. Today, employees use the latest technologies such as AI, IoT, and Machine Learning in their day-to-day work. Yet, the dated perception persists, and many overlook the sector, wrongly assuming it always requires heavy labor.

For instance, at Trivium Packaging, our average colleague is 46 years old. Thanks to this, our workforce has accumulated a great deal of expertise and knowledge, which is a strength for now but poses a knowledge-retention risk when long-term colleagues reach retirement age. We’re not unique in this. When surveyed by The Manufacturing Institute, 78 percent of respondents indicated they were very or somewhat concerned about the ageing workforce.

The solution? Investing in a robust and wide-reaching EDIB strategy. Employers need to shrug off this longstanding and outdated perception of the industry. And it’s not going to shift on its own. By showing prospective applicants that manufacturing is a workplace where they are respected, represented, and empowered through equal opportunities, the employment pool opens up to those who may not have previously considered the industry.

This starts with providing fair treatment and development opportunities for everyone. Younger generations entering the workforce are rightfully demanding transparency and equity which lies at the heart of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. If manufacturers are to attract the younger generation, equity must be clearly demonstrated to employees.

Fighting the backlash
The growing backlash to EDIB has been stark. Just last month, Costa Coffee faced backlash for including an illustration of a trans man on a delivery van. Heightening rage fueled by the ‘anti-woke’ is against a backdrop of increased polarization on the topic.

But organizations cannot retreat. The backlash signifies the weighting and importance of this societal movement. Instead, brands must adjust tactics to create greater understanding, not just awareness.

Economic challenges have tightened the pockets of businesses, but EDIB is not something we can afford to compromise on. In fact, research finds that when employees feel a sense of inclusion and belonging to their workplaces, it leads to a 56 percent increase in job performance, a 50 percent reduction in turnover risk, and a 75 percent decrease in employee sick days.

So, how do we ensure EDIB strategies are effective amidst economic challenges and extreme polarization? Position it as imperative. Rather than just implementing an EDIB strategy as a tokenism activity, organizations must recognize how integral it is to business strategy and operations.

EDIB can serve as a solution to many of the challenges we currently face, such as the ageing population, retention, capability shortage, and mental health – to name just a few. Issues that threaten the security of the manufacturing industry and cannot be ignored.

Establishing an EDIB strategy for your business
An EDIB strategy sets out to create a diverse workplace where employees are represented, respected, and can access opportunities in a fair, equitable, and transparent manner, and feel safe and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work.

Change doesn’t happen overnight: the traditional majority needs to broaden their perspectives, and that can be a tricky process. One way to drive forward behavioral change is to shift the focus to the craft of the business. For example, at Trivium, we create sustainable metal packaging. By focusing on the technical skills and knowledge required to do the job successfully, colleagues can bond over what they have in common – the craft.

We are also actively working to reduce bias throughout the employee lifecycle and have implemented a two-year roadmap to ensure we have the framework and

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policies to create a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive organization for all. Here are some examples of initiatives the manufacturing sector can incorporate in an EDIB roadmap:

  • Executive forum: include the C-suite in a central forum to accelerate and sponsor EDIB activities and set the standard for attitudes towards EDIB.
  • Employee resource groups: set up employee groups to increase awareness and offer employees a space to connect and build a sense of belonging.
  • Awareness and education: regular workshops, events, training, or educational programs will contribute to a culture of safety and inclusion, as well as educating employees on why EDIB is important.
  • EDIB metrics: monitor metrics to help track the impact of EDIB initiatives as well as support data-driven governance through policies and procedures.
  • Recruitment: reduce the bias throughout the process by focusing on competence-based recruitment, expanding the candidate pools through diverse job boards and partnerships with diverse organizations / charities as well as setting up diverse interviewing committees.

Retention and development meetings: performance evaluations bias can be reduced by designing a transparent process, clear objectives, and evaluation metrics as well as organizing diverse calibration committees and collecting feedback from different sources. To ensure fair and equitable pay, a thorough analysis should be conducted to align the compensation packages to external benchmarks. The more transparent this process is, the more we increase the chances of reducing bias. In terms of people development and growth, the focus should be on offering customized learning solutions that fit diverse learning needs as well as facilitating internal mentoring and sponsorship programs to help develop under-represented groups.

EDIB is non-negotiable
Accessing a larger pool of talent is critical for the manufacturing industry. Implementing EDIB strategies not only offers a solution to recruitment, the ageing population, and employee wellbeing, but an opportunity to unite employees and create a more respectful and empowered workforce. The industry needs change to ensure a resilient future, and EDIB can be a solution.

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor.

Adina Avram
Adina Avram is Director of Talent Development at Trivium Packaging. Trivium Packaging is a global supplier of infinitely recyclable metal packaging for the world’s leading brands. Trivium has more than 60 locations worldwide, employs close to 7500 people and has sales of $3.3 billion.