Diversity is a big buzzword. It's also very hard to define. While you may think you know what it is, do you really? A week or so ago, I saw a headline about adding diversity to a trade group, which consisted of a photo of mostly white middle-aged men. I was ready to mock it. But in this case, the group was using the term "diversity" to reflect that it was adding voices from throughout the supply chain, rather than just one big segment of it.
So, that's obviously one take on diversity.
Most commonly, diversity is used to emphasize the importance of bringing more racial, ethnic and gender voices to the table, but that is only part of the story.
And while you may think, "I know diversity when I see it," photos can be misleading and simply going by someone's name is never a great choice either.
My sister happens to be married to a member of a Native American tribe. Their kids were raised in a mixture of suburban homes and tribal reservation communities, steeped in the culture of their father's family. One of their kids also is the spitting image of my dad: blond hair, blue eyes, fair skin. (My brother-in-law refers to him as his "Dutch Indian.") He attended college through a scholarship program for tribal members. He represents a diversity that doesn't shout out its presence.
Women continue to be underrepresented, while millennial and Gen Z voices have important things to say about the direction of the industry, although they're frequently shut out of discussions.
Add to that the complexities involved with bringing forward more people with disabilities to contribute their experience to your business.
There's an interesting read in Chemical & Engineering News about the difficulties for deaf and hard-of-hearing chemists who rely on sign language, specifically that American Sign Language doesn't have standard signs for chemical terms.
"It's important to have someone to bounce your ideas off of, and deaf people oftentimes are so siloed," Mandy Houghton told C&EN's Leigh Krietsch Boerner.
"I hate going to scientific conferences," chemistry professor Daniel Lundberg of Gallaudet University added, noting that most sign language interpreters aren't versed in scientific terms.
Diversity isn't just about photo ops or public relations stunts. It's about getting input from people with a different outlook, people who may see a business opportunity in an underserved market. It's not that different from the cliche about recruiting people who can "think outside the box." But to truly create an inclusive workforce, diversity in hiring is just the first step.
"This is a huge field of differences that is hard to get your arms around, but if you are successful, it can mean tremendous positive growth for the company and our world," Cheri Alexander, professor of faculty management and organizations at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, told Automotive News. "It is critical today, more than ever."
None of this work is easy, and it takes a concerted effort to find, attract and maintain a diverse workforce.
On Aug. 2, Plastics News will publish a feature focusing on diversity in the plastics industry. We'd like to hear more about how you're adding diverse voices to your company, and both the benefits and hard work taken toward that goal. Please drop an email either to Editor Don Loepp at [email protected] or me at [email protected] to let us know so we can share your story.
Rhoda Miel is a Plastics News assistant managing editor and author of the Kickstart blog. Follow her on Twitter @PNRhodaMiel.