Opening pathways for diversity and inclusion in traditional industries

Diverse candidates can bring impressive skills, new perspectives and innovative ideas to the table. They just need equal opportunities and a pathway to success, says Melissa Uribes

While companies around the world have made public commitments to improving diversity and inclusion among their workforces, research shows that those in traditional industries fall behind. Traditional industries, such as mining, manufacturing, transport and construction, have struggled to attract and welcome an inclusive workforce that spans the full range of human differences including race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity and sexual orientation.

Shifting the mindset of entire industries continues to be a challenge due to deep-rooted biases and practices that have laid the foundation for less inclusive workforces. Construction, one of the most male-dominated industries in the world, documented its first female worker in the late 1800s when, after her husband became ill, Emily Roebling stepped in as a field engineer to oversee the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge. Fast forward to today and centuries later, only 10% of the construction industry’s workforce is female.

Although individual companies are slowly moving the needle, traditional industries have missed the mark on large-scale success due to a number of factors. A lack of suitable mentors and training, gender bias and little to no expansion of recruiting channels have all contributed to the problem. Hiring managers in these industries often rely too heavily on their own networks to fill roles, which are typically limited in diversity. At the same time, with little diversity historically, there are few role models available to provide guidance, advice and support.

Although difficult, it’s not impossible for traditional industries to change. Many companies in these industries are putting more emphasis on diversity and inclusion, recognising it is both the right thing to do and good for the business. When properly facilitated, diversity and inclusion programmes have a direct impact on employees, company identity and ultimately, the bottom line According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, ethically and culturally diverse companies are 33% more likely to outperform their competition. The firm also notes that gender diversity among executive teams correlates to 15% higher profitability and value creation.

Drivers for change

Diversity and inclusion can play in helping traditional industries overcome many of their biggest challenges, particularly the global labor shortage. Even before the pandemic, traditional industries faced a skilled labor shortage as older workers retired and younger workers sought jobs in other industries. The pandemic exacerbated the problem as many workers opted for early retirement. Data collated across 38 countries by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation showed that nearly 20 million fewer people are in work than before the coronavirus struck and of those, 14 million have exited the labor market and are classified as ‘not working’ and ‘not looking for work.’

The trucking industry, for example, is experiencing a massive shortage of drivers, which directly contributes to the supply chain disruption being felt around the world. A survey of 800 transport companies by the International Road Transport Union showed that more than 20 countries are experiencing driver shortages. The same study revealed that nearly 20% of these positions went unfilled in Eurasia last year.

In addition to a shortage of skilled workers, several other factors are pushing traditional industries to do more. The adoption of technology and its growing pervasiveness across many industries are opening up new opportunities for inclusion by eliminating physical, age, geographic and gender barriers.

Trimble sees the digitisation of the construction industry for example as an opportunity for diversity and inclusion. Chris Wilson, senior director of sales and marketing: ‘Construction is digitising and globalising at a tremendous rate, demanding our industry to modernise and move faster than we have in the past. Businesses that are more culturally diverse, more inclusive and have more balanced gender ratios are significantly better placed to meet those demands. Construction businesses should prioritise diversity and inclusion; not just because it’s the right thing to do ideologically, but because it will lead to better outcomes and an industry that thrives in being able to deliver better projects faster.’

Training and education are also creating new pathways to careers in traditional industries as companies place an effort on reaching younger generations by spearheading educational programmes as a starting point to generate awareness and interest among students. Trimble, for example, gifts technology labs to universities around the world, providing educators and students with access to the most up-to-date hardware and software tools that the company makes, as well as the training necessary to be ready for the job on day one of their careers.

Intentional steps toward diversity and inclusion

Attracting and retaining diverse talent begins with an intentional effort to eliminate bias from recruitment to employment and beyond. For companies unsure of where to start, the following are important pillars of building a diverse and inclusive workforce.

1Truly invest in diversity and inclusion. Building a more diverse workforce isn’t successfully done on the side or in committees that are beyond the scope of a person’s regular work. Diversity and inclusion efforts need to be a pivotal part of employees’ everyday work. That means finding the time and resources—including funding—to make these efforts stick.

2Engage early. Educational programmes can help raise awareness of traditional industry opportunities and careers among university students. Whether through involvement with local schools and universities or supporting STEM programmes, make an intentional effort to engage early.

3Create a mentoring programmeme. Attracting a more diverse pool of workers is only half of the battle. A mentoring programme can help workers previously underrepresented in traditional industries grow and advance their careers. Establish a programme that provides peers who can offer advice and inspiration and a sense of safety and community within the organisation. A mentor who understands the culture of the company can help a new employee find a sense of belonging within the organisation.

4Rethink the employee lifecycle. Examine your entire employee lifecycle with a lens on diversity and inclusion. Being intentional to ensure diverse representation in the interview process is important, but those efforts shouldn’t stop after the interview. Take intentional steps to drive retention with programmes and training that address the unique challenges employees face.

5Create a path for advancement. Beyond hiring and onboarding, initiating early conversations around career growth and development will reinforce your investment in new employees and provide assurance that your company is committed to their professional growth and development.

6Look for ways to do better. Businesses need to understand the current makeup of different identity types among their workforces to see where strengths and shortfalls lie.

Additionally, talk to current employees to understand their experience and ideas for how your company can make the company culture more inclusive. When it comes to recruitment, are you posting jobs only in certain places or regions, or just recruiting at the same schools every year? Often the term ‘cast a wider net’ is used, but it’s important to think about how you can expand recruiting efforts to truly ensure that you’re being intentional about attracting more diverse candidates.

7Communicate and track efforts. For diversity and inclusion programmes to work, information needs to be consistently communicated and procedures and tasks should be supported throughout the company. Regularly evaluate and benchmark your work and progress to determine what’s working and what’s not.

Although strides have been made, the work is far from over. It’s time for companies in traditional industries to put real intention and action behind creating a more equitable, diverse and inclusive workforce. Diverse candidates can bring impressive skills, new perspectives and innovative ideas to the table. They just need equal opportunities and a pathway to success.

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