Diversity is part of the DNA at Inteplast Group, a major film and sheet maker based in Livingston, N.J.
"Any company that has sustained success in plastics manufacturing didn't achieve its milestones by silencing or by excluding people with different experiences, ethnicities or physical capabilities," said Brenda Wilson, senior director of human resources and communications.
"We are a company with international roots, and this has proven to be significant," Wilson said. "Thirty years ago, we were an American startup birthed by an Asian company."
Inteplast first announced ambitious plans to build a massive film business in Lolita, Texas, in 1991. The company was affiliated with Formosa Plastics Group of Taipei, Taiwan.
"By default, we began seeing ourselves — and being viewed by others — as a different kind of organization. The intersection of Asian and Texan cultures was necessary to create Inteplast Group. This blended family became a foundational culture in our workforce's identity; from the very beginning, everyone belonged," Wilson said.
Inteplast made a big splash when it first came on the scene as a greenfield operation, with plans to have capacity to make more than 150 million pounds of film annually, and sales greater than $100 million. It's far surpassed those initial goals. Today the company has 50 plants, 6,400 employees and estimated extrusion sales of $2.7 billion.
"Given the enormous task of building and operating our plant in Lolita, Texas, the employees bonded under the pressure of the job," Wilson said. "Communication, although different languages were spoken among some staff, was thorough and input from every employee was encouraged in all phases of training and development. Inclusion of voices and perspective is nothing new and has always been a part of our identity.
"We have always normalized inclusion of people of color, disabilities, refugees, multiple ethnicities and the like," she said.
Today more that 50 percent of Inteplast employees are minorities or people of color, including one plant in Georgia, where more than 80 percent of the staff is women, she said.
Wilson said that in cases where vendors, customers or employees are not sensitive to issues related to diversity, they deal with it through "clear communication."
"We are not afraid to bring up this topic, and in fact the human resources team at Inteplast is very vocal with regard to diversity and inclusion. It doesn't hurt to challenge — politely — peoples' thinking," she said.
Wilson sees benefits to having a diverse workforce.
"People with diverse backgrounds, culture, education and life experience approach problem-solving differently. Running a complex organization means some solutions aren't readily apparent, so different voices bring more information, varied analysis and ultimately better solutions," she said.
"Just like no one person knows all the answers, no one culture, ethnicity, nationality, etc., knows all the answers," Wilson said.
Having a diverse workforce is also a helpful recruiting tool, she said.
"With Manufacturing Day approaching in the fall and the labor shortage having affected our industry, it's our millennial staff who are sharing insight on how to make Instagram and Facebook more effective tools for recruitment," she said.
She acknowledged that a young, diverse workforce may also use social media to speak about social justice issues.
"I think the tone is set by the leadership of the organization — in our case, we certainly support an individual's right to speak out and support what they believe in. But it is not for the workplace. We promote an atmosphere of respect for the individual," Wilson said.