Courting a Diverse Workforce

Nov. 16, 2016

Chasing changes in technology in recent years has become a successful fleet manager’s way of life. But while many professionals have been tightly focused, for instance, on the progress of telematics, another more subtle development continues to take place. The growing diversity in industry demographics is a game changer.

“It shows us what tomorrow looks like, and we understand what that means down the road,” says Craig Pintoff, senior VP, general counsel and head of human resources for United Rentals. “We are trying to get everybody involved, and this is not just a certain race in any shape or form.” Pintoff cites the Brookings Institution, which projected that traditional minority groups will become the majority by 2030.

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals.

Pintoff, who serves on AEMP’s diversity committee, says, “AEMP finally has such a committee. You might say there was Diversity 101 and, at present, there is Diversity 102. Now, what do we do with that in the industry? What do we do for technicians?”

Melkeya McDuffie, VP of talent acquisition for Waste Management, describes herself as a woman and a person of color. “When you look at demographics of the labor workforce in general, you take notice of the fact that women represent about 57 percent of the labor force in the United States. We at Waste Management want to make sure we have a fair chance of competing for that talent.

“From an ethnic diversity snapshot, we probably have about 25 percent representation, so there is a significant opportunity there for improvement. From within our organization, that is more of a struggle. We have less than 1 percent representation of women at management and non-management levels. I wish I could say we had a pipeline of 25 candidates and that a third of those candidates were women and persons of color, but that is not always the case. We have to go out and proactively find the talent and really sell them on why Waste Management is a great place for them to work. There is not a great deal of female interest in these jobs,” McDuffie says.

One organization that is trying to leverage the principles of diversity and inclusion to attract top talent into the construction industry, industrial construction, material suppliers, and industry support services is the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC), says President/CEO Mike Bellaman.

As an association, ABC operates a diversity inclusion framework and has a national diversity committee comprised of volunteers from across the country. The committee created a strategy that includes the formation of diversity resource groups made up of associates with common interests—race, gender, goals, ethnicity, etc.; holds an Annual Diversity Summit; and recognizes diversity and inclusion with its Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Awards. The association is in the process of deploying diversity resource groups, something that is transferable, that apply to member companies.

Bellaman says ABC has six such groups: women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, Hispanic-owned businesses, Asian-owned business, business owned by people with disabilities, and businesses owned by African-Americans. These groups, he says, “perform a vital role articulating and supporting the needs and goals of these various constituents, as well as helping to develop a culture of diversity within ABC.”

Essentially, what the groups do for ABC is help it understand if there is a need to alter, enhance or change its “value proposition to the various constituents,” says Bellaman. It’s obviously best to have people from those groups giving you direct feedback, suggestions, and ideas, he says.

“That provides content for our annual Diversity Summit held in Washington,” Bellaman says. “The Summit is tied into our legislative conference, and what we like to do is tap into these groups to understand what kind of content would be of interest.”

The diversity resource groups also yield suggestions on good speakers for the Summit, and the Summit reveals potential business opportunities from clients that value using minority business enterprises.

Bellaman says a speaker last year discussed a master plan at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport that represented about $5 million worth of work. “That was a very attractive piece of content that was born out of the interest of these groups,” he says.

Bellaman says the Summit has created additional dialogue with minority business enterprises.

“They want to have access to the opportunity to win work and want to be awarded work on the basis of the value proposition they bring to the table,” Bellaman says. “They don’t want handouts. They’re interested in being successful. Our members in our industry care about what they bring to the table, the quality of the work product, and what ethic product you bring to the table.

“We want to put the best team on the field. It doesn’t matter about your background, your heritage, or what you look like. It’s all about the talent you bring to the table,” he says.

Training is part of the Summit as well. Not only does ABC want to be attractive to minority-owned businesses, “we also are trying to educate others on how to best work with minority-owned businesses,” he says. “We have a lot of chapters who do a lot of local networking.”

By and large, non-minority enterprises are looking for strategic partners. They are meeting with minority-owned suppliers to see how they can fit into their supply chains. There is supply and demand on both sides.

The employee diversity resource group strategy is also used at United Rentals, says Pintoff.

“They are field-led with executive sponsors, and their mission is to provide a forum for our employees to discuss topics of importance to them, from career development to customer service to company policy,” he says.

Pintoff says he has attended numerous Women United forums across the country. In turn, “hundreds of women in our company have attended to talk about how we can get better at attracting and retaining women by giving them meaningful careers.”

The sessions explore topics that are important or unique to that particular group. What type of training should the company install as a result of these meetings?

“It has led to parental leave policy extensions, to training, and to charitable efforts,” he says. “We want our managers to be strong leaders, including managing a more inclusive workforce. With the workforce changing from what it used to be and with the company accelerating that change, how do we train managers to create inclusive teams that recognize differences and recognize that their own behavior may have unintended consequence that they don’t know are happening?

“This goes beyond the legal foundation,” Pintoff says. “That’s not what this is about. The training is about how our managers can develop into stronger leaders who can build cohesive teams.”

One such program, called Lead Start, is for new managers. Another program, Foundations of Management, is designed for leaders in the field, such as branch managers.

“Both programs cover not only their leadership style, but also how they address leading a diverse team,” says Pintoff. “It is awareness, it is exercises. It is case studies for our new leaders and our experienced leaders.”

United Rentals also has other ways to monitor diversity. Among them, frequent town hall meetings and engagement studies “tell us if there are challenges in different branches or if there are organizational internal themes that could be convening for us,” Pintoff says.

Surveys are conducted to provide insights that result in a better understanding of geographical differences. “To me, I don’t think any of these things are individually unique, but when you package them all together and have focus, they tend to drive outcomes that are positive,” Pintoff says.

At Waste Management, McDuffie says her company has strong ties to the military, especially since the U.S. military is quite diverse in and of itself.

“As an organization, we have received numerous recognitions and accolades with respect to our partnership with recruiting from the military, and for our success in hiring, for the most part, large numbers of veterans over the last six years,” she says. “We increase the number of military hires year by year, which also equates to diversity.”

In fact, Waste Management’s Technician Apprentice Program has been beneficial in building up a pipeline for entry-level fleet positions.

“As you know, there are fewer people in general who are pursuing skilled trades as a career path,” McDuffie says. “As such, we want to encourage people to reconsider this line of work and come build a career path with Waste Management.

“To accomplish this, we work to foster relationships with local community organizations as well as community colleges and technical schools that have a diesel tech program in order to find apprentice-level technician talent. And when you look at the demographics of these schools, while they don’t generally have a high number of female enrollees, we do find quite a bit of ethnic diversity in these programs.”

She says Waste Management partners with those educational institutions to develop apprentice programs where the company provides part-time work to students while they are attending school full-time.

“Once they have successfully completed our apprentice program, we hire them full-time into a technician role. That’s how we start to build our diverse talent pipeline,” she says.

The company has also maintained a strong focus
on cultivating relationships with community and professional organizations to attract both female and minority employees.

“If we are recruiting talent here in Houston, we want to make sure that we are identifying organizations that have rich female and minority representation,” she says. “We have cultivated relationships with the Chamber of Commerce, community organizations and many local professional groups, as well as on social media platforms.”

In an increasingly competitive economy where talent is critical to improving the bottom line, she says, “solutions from the largest and most diverse pool of candidates are increasingly necessary to succeed and grow as a business.

“When you have an environment where diversity is valued and appreciated, then you have a tendency for high engagement and greater discretionary effort.”