Diversity and inclusion as the solution to operational challenges
But what about costs? What about steering through the labour shortages that are holding up supply and disrupting production? Again, we’re seeing how looking at operations through a diversity and inclusion lens can make a real difference in these otherwise hard to manage areas.
A prominent example is overcoming the shortage of HGV drivers. Although this hit the headlines as a result of the fuel shortages in the autumn of 2021, the problem has been building up for years. And while a lot of attention has been focused on pay, conditions and the loss of drivers from the EU, another reason is that half the UK population can’t – or don’t presently want to – get near the wheel. Only 1% of truck drivers are female. The proportion of drivers from ethnic minorities is also disproportionately low.
The shortage of HGV drivers is exacerbated by an ageing workforce – 29% are aged 56 or over, compared to 20% who are 35 or under. Looking at the transport sector more broadly, vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians have the dubious distinction of being Britain’s most male-dominated jobs.
The obvious solution to this limited and shrinking talent pool would be to attract more women and people from ethnic minorities. But recent research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has highlighted a number of issues holding back more diverse recruitment and retention including gender stereotyping, inappropriate behaviour and inflexible working practices.
We’ve seen in other industries how such barriers to diversity and inclusion can be tackled. As the ONS report highlights, the first step towards change is recognising that it’s necessary. Yes, moving the dial takes time. But broadening recruitment is the only lasting way to alleviate driver shortages and the resulting disruption and costs. So where could you begin this more diverse recruitment drive? A readily available starting point would be the diverse and road-savvy population of cab/ taxi drivers and bus drivers. They’ll need training to become HGV drivers. But having driven professionally and worked on shifts, they know what’s involved and many would appreciate the opportunity.
A further look at operations through a diversity and lens highlights the importance of flexibility in strengthening retention. In a telling example, a logistics company had been spending a lot of money trying to hold on to female delivery staff or replace them if they left. It emerged that a lack of flexibility over shift patterns was contributing to the high rates of staff turnover. This included clashes with school drop off or childcare arrangements. Simply giving drivers greater say in when they work could overcome these issues. Customers might not get their parcel at 4pm, but that is surely better than having too few drivers to meet demand overall.
Clearly, problems with recruitment, retention and their operational impact go beyond transport. Construction is a similarly male-dominated sector in which many businesses are struggling to fill vacancies and hence deliver projects on time. Within the professions, women make up less than 10% of IT, mechanical and production engineers.