Create a Talent-Friendly Culture through Diversity

This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

People are more likely to begin a career where they are comfortable and where they can identify with those already there. Greater workplace diversity fuels innovation, improves engagement, optimizes team performance, adds to shareholder value and presents a business as a place with exciting career options for all who want them.

Manufacturers are always opening their doors for young people, parents, educators and local officials to tour their facility and experience the excitement of manufacturing careers. Events like October’s MFG Day lets you showcase your business to the community and hopefully attract a new generation of talent. But what are you really showing your visitors when they step inside?

You want them to see incredible new technology. Clean, brightly lit facilities. The creation of products that can change and improve societies around the world. Good pay and great benefits.

The Perception:

Manufacturing careers present one-of-a-kind opportunities for anyone with the skill, the will and the drive to do it. But is that what they really see?

The Reality:

  • Age: The median age of the American workforce has risen from 38.3 in 1996 to 42.0 in 2016 and 66% of surveyed manufacturers said workers 55 years and older comprised at least 20 percent of their workforce with four in 10 saying it was at least one-third of total talent
  • Gender: Women make up 49 percent of the available American labor force, yet account for only 29 percent of manufacturing’s talent. Added to that, only one-third of manufacturers say they have a dedicated program to help recruit women
  • Ethnicity: 79.9 percent of the American manufacturing workforce is white.

Add to these facts that the greatest career influencer for students is their own experiences and you have to wonder, when you open your doors to young people, to women, and to people of color, what are you showing them?

Will they perceive manufacturing careers the way you do? Or is it more likely that you are unintentionally turning them away because, when they walk through your doors, they can’t identify with the people they see?

Changing the Landscape

“In today’s market manufacturers have to be working to attract people of all types of demographics in order to be successful — they need to be opening their doors to everyone,” said Janis Petrini, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Grand Rapids. “There are a mix of strategies that can be used to attract these groups but, for many, you don’t need a different recruiting strategy, you just need a culture and hiring process that welcomes them.”

Petrini further explains that the development of a more diverse and inclusive talent pool, “has many other benefits with study after study having proven that a more diverse workplace fosters better engagement and increased innovation. Successful companies should want to have a wide mix of people with vastly different life ‘biographies’ that make them who they are…this diversity translates into better business results.”

How do you get there? How does any business make the large-scale changes necessary to change its workplace culture?

First, you can get out of the mindset that a shift in culture requires large-scale change. When employers hear about culture change, they tend to think about a seismic shift in policies, leadership, strategies — an entirely new business in all but name.

In actuality, most of what needs to change to attract less-represented segments of the talent pool can probably be achieved through a variety of smaller tweaks to your current business model. At the same time, understand that this can’t, and shouldn’t, be done overnight. Those seismic shifts you fear could also cause chaos within your current workforce and that is not good either. Smaller changes, prioritized by importance and done over time, can actually be more effective in long-term improvements to your workplace culture and the feeling of diversity and inclusiveness from your team and from those who come to visit your facility.

Are You Asking the Right D&I Questions?

Creating a diverse and inclusive culture requires asking the right questions and accepting the honest answers. Consider the following questions:

  • Have you designated a D&I leader in your C-suite, or in your second-tier leadership groups?
  • Do your executive leaders receive D&I training on managing diverse populations?
  • Does D&I performance play a part in compensation and/or bonuses?
  • Does your organization set D&I future targets for diverse representation in employee recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention?
  • Do job interviewers receive unconscious bias training?
  • Does your organization have policies and practices in place to train your employees trained to embed inclusion into everyday roles and responsibilities?
  • Has your organization instituted D&I in your recruitment, hiring and promotion and retention practices?
  • Has your organization created D&I employee resource groups (ERGs)?
  • Does your organization’s workforce reflect the diversity of the community in which your organization operates?
  • Does your organization’s workforce reflect the demographic you sell to?

Based on your responses, are you doing all you can to build a culture that attracts all of Michigan’s exciting workforce? If not, it’s not too late to make adjustments.

Crafting a D&I Mindset

As Denise Carlson, vice president of DENSO’s North American Production Innovation Center and executive lead for diversity & inclusion (D&I), indicates in the September Industry Member Spotlight, terms like diversity and inclusion can feel like buzzwords a business will grab onto during times of heightened political correctness. In fact, striving for these attributes should be seen as just good business.

Forty-six percent of people ages 30-39 view a company’s lack of diversity as a barrier to progress, up from just 20 percent among people 60 years and older. Add to that the fact that younger generations continue to point to the importance of brand reputation, sense of community and D&I and the logical conclusion is clear. By being the business that promotes D&I policies in their workplace and in their culture, you will see positive results across a greater portion of your talent, your future talent and your customers and supply chain partners.

“Our recruitment has always been about attracting all people towards manufacturing careers. We work to connect with a variety of resources that represent the groups of people that we are specifically looking to attract,” said Laura Elsner, workforce development manager for DeWys Manufacturing. “Ultimately, brand awareness for DeWys means letting everyone know they are welcome to apply, that we want diversity and that all can obtain long lasting careers at our company.”

Like any other project, companies looking to broaden their D&I standards to achieve a better culture and deeper talent pool should begin with clear goals.

The Manufacturing Institute released a 2018 study on the importance of D&I in the workplace and provided a clear set of goals which manufacturers of any size can work to achieve:

  • Organize and empower D&I employee resource groups
  • Make D&I a core business performance issue (not an isolated HR program)
  • Get leadership to lead on D&I
  • Tie D&I performance to overall performance/compensation
  • Master D&I metrics (create a dashboard including all D&I-related recruiting, hiring, retention, promotions and leadership data)
  • Cross-pollinate ideas (across functions, geographies and ERGs)
  • Open up free dialogue — and training — around D&I
  • Drive D&I to help close skills/talent gap

This is not an extensive list and every manufacturer should work to prioritize efforts in a way that is possible for their brand; each of these can help build a foundation for further D&I efforts.

Implementing D&I: Start from Within and Expand to the Community

How your team acts and interacts with each other matters. It’s a sign that your business is open to new ideas and new perspectives — exactly the traits that inspire innovation.

“Diverse groups of people bring diverse experiences and ideas and that helps make manufacturers stronger and more innovative,” said Carlson. “At DENSO, we value and utilize the full potential of our diverse employee pool by establishing an environment where inclusion of differences is the norm.”

An article posted by the Society for Human Resource Management identified six key steps for developing a more inclusive internal culture:

  1. Educate your leaders
  2. Form an inclusion council
  3. Celebrate employee differences
  4. Listen to employees
  5. Hold more effective meetings
  6. Communicate goals and measure progress

As your internal culture improves, you’ll begin to see new opportunities for people of all backgrounds and at all points in their careers begin to advance in the business. When that happens, you can create connections between them and leadership organizations, hiring centers and the K-12 schools, community colleges and universities in your area. This will provide job seekers the chance to get to know workers who share their history and experiences and who have thrived in manufacturing and at your business. The more this happens, the more the perceptions about the industry will change and the more effective your existing talent efforts will be.

“Our diversity initiatives are designed to attract and retain underrepresented groups like women and minorities into our engineering, corporate functions and manufacturing areas,” said Carlson. “We are targeting positions ranging from entry level to experienced professional because DENSO believes all demographics are equally important to its workforce.”

You can locate helpful resources within your community and across Michigan by reaching out to diversity-focused organizations like the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE) and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). You’ll find several grant programs and funding opportunities designed specifically to aid manufacturers in becoming more diverse and inclusive while helping to locate new talent.

Why D&I Matters

Manufacturers already face a perception problem:

  • Twenty percent of parents still outright view the industry as dark, dirty and dangerous, despite the fact that walking into most any facility will quickly clear people of some, if not all, of those assumptions.
  • Ninety percent of people would rank manufacturing as vital to the success of the American economy — the highest of any sector — yet only a third would encourage their children to pursue industry careers
  • The jump to a new era of manufacturing — Industry 4.0 — represents a change in how people and technology coexist on the shop floor and could lead to nearly 2.5 million manufacturing jobs left unfilled as skilled trades training and career awareness struggle to catch up

The point is, with all those things working against you, why add to the problem with a workplace culture reinforcing the idea that manufacturing is stuck in the past?

“I hope to see more diversity — with Michigan’s many rural communities that can be challenging, but I hope to see this continue,” said Elsner. “I hope to see a broader generational group as we move younger generations into the mix. They will be up for hire and I do hope the work we do in our workplaces and with our community partners will get them not only interested in manufacturing but more interested than previous generations.”

Your business can begin, change or heighten its effort to become more diverse and more inclusive. As you do, people will continue to tour your facility on MFG Day and every other day yet they will do it with open eyes and an open mind. Those are the people who will be inspired about your innovations and your technologies, get excited about the wages and benefits and they can look at your culture and see your business as the right spot to start their future.

For more information on locating the resources to locate talent and improve your company’s workplace culture, contact MMA’s Brett Gerrrish, at 517-487-8533 or

Contact Brett Gerrish

Brett GerrishCommunications Coordinator
Call 517-487-8533

  • The Aging of the Manufacturing Workforce: Challenges and Best Practices, The Manufacturing Institute, 2019.
  • All in: Shaping tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce through diversity and inclusion, The Manufacturing Institute, 2018.
  • 6 Steps for Building an Inclusive Workplace, Kathy Gurchiek, SHRM,, March 19, 2018.
  • Women in manufacturing: Stepping up to make an impact that matters, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 2017.
  • Debunking the Myths about Manufacturing, SME, 2016.
  • Minding the manufacturing gender gap, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 2015.