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Burke Bovender: We must prioritize diversity and equity in manufacturing careers
Manufacturing sectors

Burke Bovender: We must prioritize diversity and equity in manufacturing careers

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George Floyd’s death, along with countless other racially charged acts of violence against Black Americans, has brought racial injustice and systemic racism to the forefront across the world. Business leaders are also examining the experience that employees have inside their organizations, and developing an understanding of where they are falling short, and how they must do better.

For manufacturers like PPG, boosting diverse employee populations and fostering a more inclusive employee community is critical to the overall success of industry. Countless research studies have shown that diverse teams make an organization more resourceful and innovative; boost revenue; and ultimately make them more competitive in the marketplace.

For example, a 2020 McKinsey report notes that, “diverse teams are more innovative — stronger at anticipating shifts in consumer needs and consumption patterns that make new products and services possible, potentially generating a competitive edge.”

Another McKinsey report found that organizations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry average. And, organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to see financial returns above their industry average.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are a business imperative — manufacturing companies must tap opportunities to recruit the workforce of tomorrow. A 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics population survey shows that white employees make up about 80% of the manufacturing industry, while Black Americans make up only 10%. Furthermore, according to the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) 2019 first-quarter outlook survey, manufacturers’ top concern has been the inability to attract and retain a quality workforce.

The lack of diversity goes beyond race. A 2017 study conducted by The Manufacturing Institute, the American Production and Inventory Control Society, and Deloitte, which surveyed more than 600 women in manufacturing, found that women make up one of U.S. manufacturing’s largest pools of untouched talent. The results showed that women were approximately 47% of the U.S. workforce in 2016, yet they made up only 29% of the manufacturing workforce. The study also noted that women earn more than half of all associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the U.S., but still many qualified women aren’t seeking jobs in manufacturing.

The bottom line is that diverse employees present an incredible opportunity for manufacturers to tap into an essential pool of quality talent, innovation and perspective. There are countless roles for diverse candidates to pursue in manufacturing — from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields like research and development (R&D), to sales, operations, and the C-suite. As manufacturers increasingly embrace a digitally enabled world, the number of career options will continue to grow, increasing our need for talent.

As we mark National Manufacturing Day, we must focus on bridging the diversity gap, not only today, but every day. We must empower the next generation of manufacturing — no matter race, sexual orientation, gender or background — to pursue a career they may have overlooked. To help attract diverse talent, manufacturers can consider new avenues of recruitment — maintaining strong relationships with diverse candidates through organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers; developing a presence at historically diverse colleges and universities; or investing in scholarship and skill-building programs that dismantle barriers to education and career resources. We must also realize that infusing diversity into a workforce does not stop after the recruiting process — the employee experience inside a company is critical to retaining talent.

As an industry, a community and as individuals, we must act now to take steps toward fostering inclusivity by attracting, hiring and retaining talent from all backgrounds, and generating excitement about the limitless career possibilities in manufacturing and STEM fields.

Burke Bovender is PPG's plant manager in Greensboro.

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