Diversity of thinking

By Lauren Duensing

March 2013 - In this month’s cover story, “Business in the fast lane,” members of Modern Metals’ editorial advisory board discussed challenges they face, including the need to attract a multigenerational, diverse, skilled workforce to the manufacturing industry. 

“Untapped resource: How manufacturers can attract, retain and advance talented women,” a report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, cites that appealing to women workers should be part of the message from manufacturers because currently they’re struggling to attract female candidates.

Today, women represent 46.6 percent of the total U.S. labor force and only 24.8 percent of the durable goods manufacturing workforce, according to the report. However, of the 600 women in the industry who were surveyed by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 75 percent believe a manufacturing career is interesting and rewarding because of both compensation and opportunities for challenging assignments.

“Although research participants had strong opinions on the attraction and retention of women in manufacturing, they seemed most passionate about education,” the report noted. “Specifically, the women we interviewed were adamant that the industry must broaden its talent efforts to include K–12 outreach. As one participant offered, ‘Technical skills are critical, and gaining those technical skills is an initial hurdle that many women face.’ To meet the industry’s long-term talent requirements, the participants recommended that companies actively support school initiatives that increase young women’s interest in obtaining a technical education.”

As I was writing both the roundtable and this editorial, I thought about the characteristics that different generations and different genders bring to the table in a work environment, and I was reminded of a feature I read last year in ESPN The Magazine. “Time to re-evaluate” by David Fleming appeared in the April 30, 2012, NFL Draft issue. The NFL has fewer women working among its ranks than the manufacturing industry and none currently working as full-time scouts.

This type of single-gender working environment is conducive to “groupthink,” a concept that was discussed in depth in the article, using JaMarcus Russell’s 2007 predraft workout as an example. Those who follow football know Russell’s NFL career was less than stellar, to put it mildly, but as a group, scouts bought into his physical prowess, feeding each other’s excitement, which eventually translated into a No. 1 pick and a guaranteed $32 million. That’s a huge contract for a quarterback who would go on to win nine games in three seasons.

“When a war room becomes fixated on a physical specimen, it will tend to wave off red flags or contrary evidence about that player’s attributes,” Fleming wrote in the story. “Without anyone to check the groupthink, the team is susceptible to reaching badly for the object of its desire.”

The article asserted that including women scouts in a process like the NFL draft would help a team think outside of the box and add a contrasting point of view when a group’s thoughts become laser-focused on a player’s enormous hands, speed or prototypical body type rather than how he will fit into the organization or read a defense. It’s no different in any other business. Women and men from Generation Y to the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation all bring a wealth of information and life experience to the workplace. Organizations who take advantage of this diversity of thinking will find themselves in a great position to weather the challenges ahead.MM

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