Shore Up Supply Chain’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commitments Now — or Miss the Boat

By Dana Stiffler | November 09, 2021 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainPower of the ProfessionSupply Chain Strategy, Leadership and Governance

Both 2020 and 2021 marked watershed moments in supply chain leaders’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Companies with existing commitments accelerated them. Companies that hadn’t prioritized DEI jumped in with statements, commitments and investments for improving the employee experience, supply chain ecosystems and communities.

The challenge is that, in late 2021, DEI’s urgency seems diminished, especially next to acute material and labor constraints. We’re in a situation in which some markets have fewer than one person available for each job opening. Are these difficulties, combined with organizational fatigue, crowding out carefully crafted DEI commitments?

Using Gartner client interactions as a gauge, it’s a distinct possibility.

Compared to a year ago, 3Q21 DEI-focused interactions in the supply chain team are now roughly half what they were. It would be a shame to lose the thread, squandering the work organizations have done so far, when associate engagement and retention are more crucial than ever. While some of the large, global supply chain organizations ($5B+) will be on track — given their higher propensity to commit to targets with management accountability behind them (see our research project with ASCM: 2021 Supply Chain Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Survey: Commitment Skyrockets, Requires Follow-Through) — less mature organizations are in danger of missing the DEI train permanently without recommitting now.

As many organizations are in the middle of performance-management and planning conversations with an eye on 2022, the timing seems right for a brief refresher. Based on Gartner research, here are things you can do as a supply chain leader to ensure that you will deliver on your DEI commitments. General engagement and retention results across demographics will also benefit from these practices.

  • Activate your — and your peers’ — inclusive leader mindsets and actions with inclusion nudges. These can be integrated relatively easily into workflows. They target behaviors rather than beliefs. Some examples in promotion and succession-planning discussions at one leading manufacturer:
    • Promotion presumptions. Everyone in the cohort is declared eligible for promotion, putting everyone on equal footing. Then leaders must discuss why each individual is not eligible for promotion.
    • Visual cues. The names of women and underrepresented ethnicities are color-coded differently, giving simple yet effective visual representations of where underrepresented groups were in their organization’s hierarchy, talent assessments and succession lists.
    • Bias champions. Individuals are tasked with looking out for biased language and feedback, asking questions like, “Is this feedback due to a capability gap or simply a work-style difference?” In one forum, leaders were provided a bell to ring if they detected a bias. That tool became a good vehicle to expose a potential bias and check for clarity before resuming the talent discussion.
  • Secure commitments to policies and initiatives proven to improve inclusion. The Big Three that are successful in improving inclusion of women, underrepresented ethnicities and all generations are (1) flexible scheduling, (2) diverse interview panels and (3) diversity referral programs. Promoting diversity in succession planning and inclusive leader training are additional initiatives that produce results.
  • Socialize progress made in key forums and in manager talk tracks with direct reports, as well as what you are working on to improve. Knowing as a leadership team that you are responsible not only for updating each other, but also the entire supply chain organization on a quarterly basis, can help keep things on track. “Reporting Diversity Metrics” in fact is one example of an activity with a higher-than-average inclusion outcome.

Finally, one small hack that has proven effective in organizations regardless of their size or maturity. When evaluating individuals’ contributions, fitness for an opportunity or promotion, ask, “What does this person add?” rather than “Does this person fit?” The latter question leads to more of the same — legions of Mini-Me’s. Focusing on the first question instead will open new doors.

Dana E. Stiffler
Research Vice President
Gartner Supply Chain

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