WERC MATTERS: Progressing Toward Greater Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

By Michael Mikitka

Amidst the backdrop of COVID-19 and the political uncertainty of 2020, widespread protests drew attention to our country’s racial and cultural inequities. For many business leaders, 2020 was a year of reckoning. Not only about surviving the challenges of a global pandemic and its impact on their supply chains and customers, but also about improving employee diversity, equality and inclusion.

In research conducted for the Warehousing Education and Research Council’s (WERC) Annual DC Measures Survey and Report on Industry Metrics and in MHI’sAnnual Industry Reports, supply chain leaders consistently said they struggle to hire and retain qualified workers. One way to address that challenge is attracting and retaining employees from a more diverse talent pool. To that end, WERC and MHI delved deeper into where the industry currently stands on these critical issues. Here’s what we learned.

The supply chain industry has made more progress with initiatives in gender diversity than in ethnic and cultural diversity, said Dana Stiffler, managing VP of research at Gartner. Stiffler has produced the annual Gartner Women in Supply Chain report since 2016 and is currently researching the industry’s ethnic, racial and cultural diversity for a new report.

Stiffler noted that—prior to 2020—supply chain professionals reported that the most underrepresented group targeted by their company’s diversity, equality and inclusion effort was women.

“Interestingly, our initial findings in the 2020 research show that supply chain leaders have renewed or established an increased focus on diversity, equality and inclusion for ethnic, racial and cultural minorities that has slightly outpaced their focus on gender diversity for the first time,” she said.

Stiffler believes that companies’ focus on setting goals and objectives for increasing representation of ethnic, racial and cultural minorities echoes where they were five to 10 years ago when the focus was on attracting women.

Annette Danek-Akey, senior VP of supply chain at Penguin Random House, said what she’s seeing mirrors Stiffler’s findings.

“With regard to inclusion and diversity in supply chain, the conversation has been there for more than 10 years,” she said. “Now, people are tired of talking about it and are starting to take real action. I see more companies actually setting goals against their vision and making some progress. That’s encouraging, because if you have a goal then you can measure against it.”

In the warehouse, Megan Smith, CEO of Symbia Logistics, has observed a significant uptick in diversity across multiple lines. “The hourly side is much more diverse [than the leadership ranks]and has grown even more so in the past five years. I attribute a lot of that growth to the implementation of automation within those jobs.”

Automation opens up more arduous jobs to persons who previously would not have met the physical qualifications. “Women, older people, differently abled persons can all perform those jobs because the technological advancements are making them easier and therefore more inclusive,” explained Smith.

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