Making the Business Case for DEI

Companies Say DEI Programs Promote Growth and Enhance Values

Making the Business Case for DEI

Issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have been prevalent with businesses nationwide for years now, with company leaders pushing efforts to ensure racial and ethnic diversity in the workforce.

Employers say they recognize a moral imperative for ensuring their workplaces are inclusive and welcoming. But they also have been swayed by research into the business benefits of diversity. One of the most cited examples is a series of reports from McKinsey & Company. The consulting firm’s three studies, the first of which appeared in 2015, built a business case for diversity as a factor in generating above-average financial performance.

For companies in flexible packaging, the benefits of DEI have flowed to areas ranging from packaging design to employee recruitment, a challenge facing manufacturers across the board. “As a global leader in innovative packaging and engineered products, we conduct business in hundreds of markets,” says Anastasia Matthews, vice president for diversity and inclusion in corporate human resource services for Berry Global, based in Evansville, Indiana. “Rapidly changing demo graphics make diversity and inclusion some of the most important performance factors we face.”

A Challenge by the Numbers

The focus on DEI comes as flexible packaging companies and other manufacturers confront a critical shortage of workers. By 2030, there could be up to 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs, according to a study by consulting firm Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development partner of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are key ingredients in meeting the challenge, according to the report. “The simple demographic arithmetic demands that organizations cannot have a robust talent strategy without a robust DEI strategy,” the report says.

The findings have been followed by calls to action. NAM, for example, rolled out a pledge asking manufacturers to create more job opportunities for people of color and the manufacturing workforce to reflect the diversity of the overall U.S. workforce by 2030.

In 2022, Black or African American people made up 10.8% of the overall manufacturing workforce, though they made up 12.6% of the total workforce, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For plastic products manufacturing, however, the share of Black and African American workers was above the average, at 13.7%. The bureau does not break out data for plastic packaging alone.

Manufacturers have more ground to cover when it comes to women in the workforce. Women accounted for 46.8% of the workforce as a whole in 2022, but 29.3% of the manufacturing workforce, according to the bureau. For plastics, the share was 29.7%.

The Manufacturing Institute is aiming for the percentage of women to reach 35% by 2030 under an initiative it calls “35 x 30.”

Other diversity initiatives focus on the packaging industry. One example is the PAC IOU Charter, which calls for inclusivity, equality, and accessibility in packaging brand design and innovation. Signatories include TC Transcontinental. “The aim is to ensure people’s differences are recognized and reflected in inspiring new approaches to innovation within universal package design, organically leading to accessible packaging becoming the norm,” says Zoraya Esplugas, human resources manager for talent and diversity at TC Transcontinental, which is based in Montreal, Canada.

What’s Being Done

Many employers describe their diversity efforts as a journey, and TC Transcontinental is no exception. The company began its journey in 2013 with an event called Women in Print. “Since then, gender diversity has played a key role in our talent development approach,” Esplugas says.

“We understand that diverse perspectives and experiences help us better understand and serve our customers, suppliers, and partners. Our DEI efforts enable us to attract and retain top talent from diverse backgrounds, which, in turn, helps us build a stronger and more competitive organization.”

—Katie Hendrix, Novolex senior director of employee experience

For several years, the company has maintained a diversity and inclusion steering committee led by board chair Isabelle Marcoux. Since 2019, the company has made diversity targets part of its executive compensation incentives, Esplugas says. The efforts have led to measurable progress in bringing more women into executive and management positions. From a baseline of 24% in 2018, women held a share of 33% in 2021, surpassing the company’s target of 30%, according to the company’s corporate social responsibility report for 2019–2021. The results stem, in part, from corporate initiatives like Women@TC, a forum that provides connection, recognition, and education for women at the company, Esplugas says. The company also operates an initiative called Top Women Leaders that focuses on executive sponsorship and education for women with the potential to join leadership ranks.

And in 2021, the company formally added two new pillars to its DEI work: ethnicity and LGBTQ+ communities, Esplugas says.

A Grassroots Approach

Companies say committed leaders are key to their DEI programs. However, they also acknowledge that success depends on input and feedback from all levels of an organization.

In 2022, TC Transcontinental introduced True Colors, an employee-led committee focused on creating an inclusive and safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. “With the support of the board of directors and the executive leadership team, True Colors aims to foster a workplace where all LGBTQ+ employees feel accepted and have access to equal opportunities and benefits,” Esplugas says.

At Novolex, DEI efforts enjoy corporate-level support. The company, for example, hired a leadership and development expert to create improved training programs to increase retention and advancement opportunities for all employees, says Katie Hendrix, senior director of employee experience for the company, based in Hartsville, South Carolina.

However, the company refrains from dictating specific programming. “We recognize that every facility is unique and that it is impossible to impose a  one-size-fits-all approach to DEI efforts,” Hendrix says.

Indeed, the company’s approach takes many sizes, encompassing a range of strategies and programs depending on the audience. In its manufacturing facilities, Novolex identified a need for more support in creating an inclusive culture, Hendrix says. “We’re looking to our DE&I Council to develop consistent yet adaptable programming that recognizes cultural identities and their unique contributions to the Novolex community.” Within its professional ranks, Novolex sees a need to focus on diverse recruitment. “To this end, we have implemented DE&I best practices in our recruiting processes, including training recruiters and hiring managers on how to remove bias from job descriptions and make less-biased hiring decisions,” Hendrix adds.

Not Resting

While companies say they are seeing results from their DEI efforts, they are continuing to enhance and fine-tune their approaches.

This year, Berry Global kicked off a new program called “The Cultural Heritage Series,” Matthews says. It focuses on education and awareness through suggested resources and webinars about various cultural heritage months and celebrations. “The series has really resonated with our team members,” she says.

The company also is refreshing and reintroducing its employee resource groups, which have been operating for seven years as a way for employees to connect over ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Matthews says. They will have a new structure and new guidelines.

Next up is an update to the company’s DEI strategy with an eye on advancing its commitment to creating an inclusive culture, Matthews says. “It is our belief that our new updated DEI strategy will help us attract and retain a more talented, skilled workforce,” she says.

This year, TC Transcontinental is adding a DEI section to its new e-learning system. The goal is to increase awareness among salaried employees about the business case for diversity and inclusion, as well as the impact of unconscious bias, Esplugas says. “It will also reach our managers to better prepare them to talk about the importance of DEI and support/implement DEI actions at a local level,” she adds.

Efforts also are underway to bolster diverse hiring. In its packaging business, TC Transcontinental developed an international talent pipeline and plans to create a robust immersion program for new workers in its U.S. operations, Esplugas says. “Beyond what the research teaches us—the fact that empowering women and increasing diversity within a company leads to better economics—we think this is a matter of values,” she says. “Our TC values are a common denominator globally and DEI is a branch of our corporate values.”

At Novolex, leaders plan to continue their efforts to identify and address potential hiring barriers for candidates from underrepresented groups, as well as to invest in systems that can measure where candidates are coming from, Hendrix says. “We will also focus on embedding DEI best practices into our talent review, succession planning, learning and development, and career pathing processes,” she says, noting the benefits of a more diverse, inclusive workplace.

“We understand that diverse perspectives and experiences help us better understand and serve our customers, suppliers, and partners,” Hendrix adds. “Our DEI efforts enable us to attract and retain top talent from diverse backgrounds, which, in turn, helps us build a stronger and more competitive organization.”

Joel Berg is a freelance writer and editor based in York, Pennsylvania.