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How Diversity Boosts the Warehousing and Supply Chain Workforce

2 months ago by
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​Find the employees you need by letting go of stereotypes

Diversity in the workplace opens doors for job candidates previously overlooked. It may take a culture shift to become authentically inclusive but the benefits usher in innovation and a competitive edge. Discover key strategies to diversify your workforce.

What do we mean by diversity?

Simply stated, diversity in the workplace means the representations of race, gender, age and other demographics mirror that of the surrounding community.

Diversity is different to inclusion.

Inclusion is the next step. It’s the culture and crucial connections within a workplace that attract a diverse spread of employees. It’s what makes a range of workers from different backgrounds with different experiences feel like they are valued. When it’s done right, inclusion frees workers to bring their creativity and strengths to the table.

Diversity and inclusion must work in tandem for the success of a diverse workplace to be realised.

A current snapshot

Historically, diversity has not been much of a consideration in the warehousing and supply chain industry. That’s largely because it traditionally has required physical strength for many job roles. The industry has now fallen behind others in the quest for a more representative workforce.

Gender diversity

A US industry snapshot published in October 2021 showed that white males remain the predominant race and gender. It was estimated that 30% were female and 8% were LGBTQI+. That does not compare favourably to the 50% representation women have in the professional workforce of developed markets.

Of the women who are employed, inclusion is still deterred by inherent bias. There are fewer women than men in senior roles, and some women feel like they have to act more like men to be successful, or are expected to be ‘warm and cuddly’. What follows is a masked version of themselves at work. When workers cannot be themselves at work, they stop adding their input or opinions that they expect to be passed over. Instead, they will conform to existing ways to move forward.

Age diversity

A 2016 UK supply chain study showed that only 9% of the industry was under 25 years of age and nearly half were over the age of 45. The main reason was that non-transferrable skills had been learned on the job, making it difficult to leave the industry. Consequently, staff turnover had slowed, providing less opportunity for fresh talent and new ideas.

New trends are slow

With technology and automation changing the face of the industry, attitudes have begun to shift. Acceleration into the digital age (thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic) has meant more scope for job candidates with technical skills. This is good news considering the current skills shortage, but it will require a culture change.

Until now, the inclusion of women in the industry has been the focus where diversity is concerned. While this has been a good first step, there is still work to be done. Renewed focus on people of different ethnicity, race and culture are emerging, but groups lagging in representation are LGBTQ+, veterans and people with disabilities.

The powerful positive forces of diversity

There are challenges to becoming more inclusive. Diversity introduces more potential for conflict, and more need for understanding and accommodating others.

However, the long-term benefits of investing in diversity bring lasting returns. After all, future generations are becoming more diverse, and with that comes expectations that their workplaces will be the same.

“In this market, people have choices. Before everything else, you have to have an inclusive organization where people feel valued for their perspectives and what they uniquely bring to the job. The organizations that figure that part out will be able to build their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs, and hire, retain and develop their teams more successfully than those that don’t.”

- Christian Dow, MHI’s executive vice president of membership and industry leadership

Attract employees

In a job market that’s moving away from stereotypes, the best and brightest workers are open to career prospects across industries. The more your business can accommodate people from a broad range of education qualifications, ages, languages, genders and abilities, the more likely you are to attract employees that are intelligent, innovative and keen to learn.

Boost innovation, engagement and retention of employees

In an inclusive workplace, employees are valued for their unique contributions. When different employee perspectives are heard and considered, creativity and innovation flourish. Employees who bring their whole selves to work are less likely to quit, are likely to engage better and are more likely to stay beyond two years.

Outperform competitors

Automation of machinery and the use of technology in warehousing and supply chain industries means that physical strength is no longer required in some roles.

This opens opportunities for veterans, women and differently-abled people, among others, to do what was previously considered dangerous, heavy or physically demanding.

Businesses that structure jobs to harness the strengths and capabilities of a diverse workforce gain the competitive edge. In fact, a 2021 McKinsey study showed that companies who promote gender and ethnic diversity are 25-36% more likely to outperform their competitors.

“Just consider that ‘many people with neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, dyspraxia, and dyslexia have extraordinary skills, including in pattern recognition, memory, and mathematics,’ according to the Harvard Business Review. I've found these individuals are also often highly well-equipped to think out of the box and come up with novel solutions”.

- Debra Ruh, CEO/ Founder of Ruh Global IMPACT (Forbes Business Council)

How to grow a diverse workforce

While the warehousing and logistics industry is showing a growing interest in diversity issues, the common question is where to start. Here are some ideas.

1. Expand your recruitment and onboarding

If you continue recruiting in the same way, you will keep getting the same types of candidates. The diverse range of employees you seek won’t be searching in places they expect to be overlooked. You need to actively throw the net wider.

Job ads

Check the language you’re using in your job adverts. If you have the technology to facilitate physical tasks, don’t include traditional requirements of a certain lifting ability or physical strength. The words you choose can also speak more to one age group than another, with words like ‘energetic’ and ‘fun’ appealing to younger workers.

Remove bias in pre-employment screening

Make sure employees are hired on merit rather than stereotype, by de-identifying their applications. Remove name, date of birth and geographical location, so that you’re assessing job fit objectively. Consider doing initial interviews on the phone to avoid visual bias.

Provide focused support for minority groups

Mentorship, sponsorship, apprenticeships and internships have repeatedly been shown to boost the business skills and careers of minority groups. Dana Stiffler, managing vice president of research at Gartner produced evidence which showed that mentorship, sponsorship and coaching contributed to better attraction and retention of female employees. She also found that specifically focused programs propelled women into leadership positions. Stiffler suggested that the same would hold true for other underrepresented groups.

Apprenticeships and internships encourage younger workers to grow their careers within your business. Time spent within the industry provides opportunities to view different aspects of the business, and to see options for future career growth.

2. Build an inclusive culture

While recruitment is the first step to building a diverse workforce, it cannot be the only focus. As one Harvard Business Review stated: diversity doesn’t stick without inclusion. The true advantages of a diverse team will only be realised if inclusion is authentic and not token action that ends after onboarding.

Participate in diversity events

Consider pools of candidates you might previously have overlooked and reach out where these groups gather. Connect with organisations and education centres that support the people you’re missing in your business.

For example, host an information stall at TAFE or university events to attract younger workers. Have representatives from your company attend disability advocacy groups or initiatives for women in the workplace.

Your presence at these events will communicate an authentic interest and raise awareness of how your business embraces diversity.

Accommodate English as a second language

In the supply chain industry, you’re likely to have workers with English as a second language (ESL). If you are intentional about inclusion, screening language ability in the pre-employment stage can help to ensure that ESL workers are fully able to integrate without feeling embarrassed about a lack of understanding English.

A few ways to reduce language barriers include:

  • Voice-activated technology

  • Buddy systems

  • Picture-based instructions

  • Number coded tasks

Strategies to enable workers of different languages to bring their valuable skills to your workforce help them participate in training and integrate into teams.

Grow inclusive leaders

Achieving inclusion and equality requires a different management style.

“You have to be the type of leader who respects and appreciates having employees from varying backgrounds, because more inclusion means asking for more opinions. That’s not easy. You have to up your skills as a manager to make sure everyone has a voice, to deal with conflict, to embrace being challenged. Ten years ago, listening may not have mattered; it’s absolutely critical today.”

- Annette Danek-Akey, senior vice president of supply chain at Penguin Random House

A framework constructed by the Center for Talent Innovation outlined four levers that drive inclusion. One of these was inclusive leadership: leaders who create a safe space for employees to propose ideas and make decisions. Leaders with these traits help employees feel welcome and feel that their ideas are heard and recognised.

3. Implement diversity policy and set measurable goals

For diversity and inclusion to become part of corporate culture, it needs deliberate strategy. Research has shown that although diversity issues have been in conversation for the last 10 years, companies that set measurable goals and designed programs progressed further than those who set ‘soft’ goals or ‘general’ objectives.

In the US, various programs were initiated to develop workplace diversity. From most common to least, these were:

1. A written diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) company policy

2. Employment of a diversity and inclusion officer

3. Diversity initiatives (for example, women in the workplace initiatives, employee resource groups and initiatives for people with disabilities)

4. Other strategies, like employing more veterans or giving employees who had been in prison a second chance.

A caution while establishing policy is that it can stunt inclusion if not carefully considered. For example, inclusion of people with disabilities is not practical when no flexibility is granted for scheduling of health-related appointments.

For your diversity policy to be inclusive, employee input in policymaking is valuable. Employees can help develop policies that appeal to a diverse range of job candidates, making your business more attractive to a greater variety of people.

Summary

The warehousing and supply chain industry is missing out on potential job candidates by trailing behind other industries in diversity matters. Historically, the industry required workers with physical capacity, resulting in a male-dominated environment.

However, advances in technology have opened the door for fresh talent from underrepresented people groups.

There is more to be done to close gaps in race, ethnicity, sexuality, culture and age representation, but growing interest in diversity and inclusion is propelling the industry forward. Employers who include workers with diverse backgrounds gain the competitive edge by increasing engagement, retaining staff and enhancing the scope of innovation.

Need further advice?

MTC Recruitment’s parent company, MTC Australia, supports and trains people from various communities to help them reach their potential. We are their recruitment arm and as such their diverse customer base is available to us. MTC Australia has maintained a five-star rating in employment services, earned though repeated success in seeing our clients overcome employment barriers.

Together, we work closely with customers from various ethnic backgrounds and embrace a culture of inclusion. A special recruitment focus, their Disability Employment Services program, is geared to harness the work capabilities of people living with disabilities.

Talk to us today about connecting with someone who would value a job you might offer.