Diversity and inclusion in a workforce can lead to a highly competitive advantage in manufacturing. We might think of “diversity” as a singular thing, as ethnicity or race, but diversity is defined by Oxford Languages as “the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.”
Inclusion is the feeling of being respected, acknowledged, and valued – in this case, in the workplace. Supportive leaders in manufacturing provide an energy and commitment that encourage employees to do their best work, which can lead to higher productivity and ultimately higher profit. Inclusive leaders foster deeper connections with others. They get to know each employee on a more personal level, often asking for their opinions and honoring their thoughts and ideas.
Diversity and inclusion are separate ideas but can and should work together. We’re going to break them down and explain why we need both in the manufacturing industry.
Diverse representation within a company isn’t equal to “inclusion.” According to this study, 293 team members clustered in 45 public sector teams showed that inclusive leadership positively moderates the negative relation between team ethnic-cultural diversity and inclusive climate. In other words, the study showed that greater team diversity (both racially and culturally) doesn’t necessary automatically yield an inclusive climate.
According to DSI/Dynamatic Sales Manager Greg Perona, there is a significant difference between diversity and inclusion.
“I believe diversity is a company’s ability to employee people from different ages, races, genders, religions, career background, and skills,” he said, “while inclusion is about management’s ability to listen, understand and respect the voices and opinions from all the employees.”
He’s right. So, how do we create an inclusive environment in manufacturing?
With the country in the midst of a demographic shift, according to the last U.S. Bureau report, it’s important for companies to represent the changing customer demography. The country is more multiracial and gender-different than ever before, so, can we be diverse AND inclusive? Yes!
For a company such as VirtuDesk, a virtual assistance company that helps manufacturers with marketing and prospecting, “family” is where they place importance. CEO Pavel Stepanov said that inclusive leadership is a necessary practice.
“We place a lot of importance on creating a culture that is inclusive and makes everyone feel like they are part of a family,” he said. “We tend to use the word family a lot in our communications. We want everyone in our company to feel that they are part of a group that supports them and provides a safe space for them to be heard.”
It’s important for manufacturers to train leaders to be inclusive, and to hire those who have inclusive traits. Those traits, identified in a poll done by Deloitte, include:
When an inclusive leader shows commitment, they dedicate time and energy to the cause, making sure that it’s not just an empty promise. They inquire opinions from everyone, create a safe environment for all employees, and encourage participation and collaboration from everyone.
Courage requires vulnerability. Inclusive leaders speak up and challenge status quo with confrontation and humility.
- Cognizance of bias
Recognizing one’s own biases is a skill that goes together with self-awareness. When a leader is self-aware, they can acknowledge unconscious bias within their organizations and act accordingly with policies, procedures, and processes that would mitigate these biases.
Being open-minded leads to the desire to know and understand how others view the world. With this strategy in place, an inclusive leader can use questions and conversations to gain new perspectives.
- Cultural intelligence
Culturally intelligent leaders recognize how their own culture impacts their world view and how cultural stereotypes can influence expectations.
Finally, Deloitte mentions that collaboration from an effective leader empowers their teams and better connects them with diverse markets, customers, and ideas.
Perona believes that inclusivity begins when leaders are educated. Company management should provide opportunities for employees to share their own experiences and perspectives so they can learn from one another. Companies can create safe spaces for everyone to share their diverse talents and be respected and celebrated for them.
“(Inclusivity is) an environment where managers and all persons in a leadership position understand what makes individuals unique and make sure all employees feel connected and welcome within their team and organization,” Perona said. “A company can also start acknowledging, honoring, and celebrating cultural and religious differences.”
What happens when a company leans toward inclusion? It only moves the needle in the positive direction. When an employee feels they can contribute equally to the success of a company, the benefits are endless. Some positive outcomes can include:
- Relationship building
- Recognition of bias, conscious or unconscious
- Social connection
- Encouraging participation and collaboration
- Seek missing perspectives
- Comfort in communication
- Encouraging people to speak up
- Invest in resources
- Effective advocates for diversity
But what happens if inclusiveness efforts start to fail?
Tokenism would be the act of recruiting people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of racial or gender equality within a workplace.
- Cultural Assimilation
This is the process in which a minority group or culture resembles a society’s majority group or assumes the values, behaviors, and beliefs of another group.
Dehumanization is what it sounds like. It is the deprivation of positive human qualities and is often accompanied by cruelty or suffering.
In a company such as Stepanov’s, benefits of inclusivity would diminish or disappear if measures weren’t taken to create that kind of culture.
“Low morale would lead to lower productivity. Quality of work would also decrease,” he said. “Resentment, bitterness, attrition rates and burnout would occur. Plus, these will be very immediate and visible. More conflict would come up, which would bring down the entire team or even the company.”
Perona agreed and said if inclusivity within a company is not adopted, it is also difficult to obtain and retain employees.
“A company will have a more educated and well-versed workforce and have a better chance of getting new ideas from a more diverse group,” he said.
Inclusive leaders create value for any manufacturing company. They create a stronger and richer workforce by encouraging a sense of belonging and offering environments where people can feel psychologically safe to bring up their differences.
The greatest potential within your company comes from everyone who works there. When everyone feels heard and acknowledged in a supportive and encouraging way, there’s no way to go but up.