World of Difference: Cast the Widest Net

July 1, 2008
To recruit and retain a diverse mix of people, companies should foster an accepting environment.

Each time I attend a conference or trade show, I get the same question: “So, how did you end up in material handling?” At the risk of sounding cynical, I suspect the same question would not be posed to a man. Women are still rare, both on the plant floor and in the boardroom. The same can be said about minorities.

There’s no denying we’ve come a long way in our acceptance of women and minorities in the workplace. Nevertheless, opportunities remain hidden to many qualified individuals.

I’m not taking on a charitable cause. Excluding people from recruiting efforts simply because they are different is bad for business. Readers tell me the labor pool is becoming more ethnically and racially diverse. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics backs this up: By 2050, minorities will make up half of the American workforce, while the number of workers aged 55 and over will jump to 20%. Readers also say the labor shortage, exacerbated by the impending retirement of Baby Boomers, is one of their more pressing concerns.

As these trends continue, companies that ignore diverse populations will miss out on a huge source of labor. The wider the net is cast, the greater the chances of finding good people.

Running a few job ads in newspapers that reach women and minorities is a good start, but it’s not enough. We need to start educating young people long before they enter the workforce. As I see it, we have two major obstacles to overcome: We have to make the career path visible, and we have to improve the image of material handling.

Mary Aichlmayr Senior Editor maichlmayr@

For women, the career option is gradually emerging from the shadows. Patti Satterfield, vice president of marketing and business development at Fortna Inc. and past president of the Northeast Ohio WERCouncil, knows what it’s like to be outnumbered but thinks things are changing.

“There has been an increase in the number of women in the industry,” she says. Patti started her career in data collection and gradually moved into the supplychain consulting world.

The 20-year warehousing veteran says colleges and universities are starting to present material handling and logistics as business skills, rather than just vocational avenues. Eventually, this new outlook may help dispel the dirty image of material handling and logistics jobs.

“Universities and other student programs are presenting material handling as an equal-opportunity career,” Patti says. “Women are becoming educated as to what supply chain is and realizing it is a viable business option.”

To recruit and retain a diverse mix of people, companies should foster an accepting environment and offer continuous learning opportunities, advises Patti. “Warehousing is a business,” she says. “Our job is to streamline processes, save costs, analyze options and manage people. All of those things are vital, and material handling needs good businesspeople.”

Those good businesspeople are out there. It’s up to you to find them.

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