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The New Faces of Manufacturing: DEI at Work

Sheronda Carr, Senior Director of Membership, SME
By Sheronda Carr Senior Director of Membership, SME

SME's Commitment

SME is partnering with key industry groups such as Women in Manufacturing to support and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the manufacturing industry.

Before joining SME in November 2021 as head of Membership, I reviewed the photos and biographies of the SME Board of Directors. It was important for me to join an organization that reflects the community it serves.

I was pleased to learn that the board’s makeup included individuals from various manufacturing job segments, skills, ages, genders, cultures, and ethnicities. Having a diverse board and leadership team demonstrates that an organization welcomes different experiences that, when shared and honored, can lead to effective solutions, especially in manufacturing, where products are created and used globally for use in people’s daily lives.

Moreover, SME champions efforts to create spaces for underrepresented groups to have a seat at the table among the manufacturing community.

The Right Thing to Do

There have been positive shifts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in manufacturing; the pandemic accelerated some of these changes. However, as the perception of manufacturing evolves to attract and retain a talented workforce, it’s essential that DEI not become a fad fueled by social pressures.

DEI is necessary because it’s the right thing to do—to grow, advance, and incorporate into businesses. It spurs innovation and firmly supports the ecosystem of the manufacturing industry, from large industrial manufacturing companies to small-to-medium-size companies working to adopt the latest smart technologies to those creating pathways to prosperity through workforce development initiatives.

Diversifying manufacturing at every level is required to combat the epidemic shortfall of skilled workers, stimulate the profession’s relevance, and innovate to better serve manufactured product end-users.

In November, I presented the 2023 membership strategy to the SME board of directors and the SME Member Council, a member-led leadership group that helps lead the member engagement activities of SME’s volunteer networks. I shared my vision for SME to bring together the largest, most engaged member community that is representative of all voices in the manufacturing industry with a concerted effort to increase the number and engagement points for females, minorities, and other emerging professionals. It will take continuous and consistent improvements to impact this area more significantly. As we broaden our reach to underrepresented communities, we will enhance value in everything we do. I’m proud of the steps we are taking in this area.

Recent Initiatives

In May, SME and Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP) joined forces to attract and build a diverse next-gen workforce to advance the additive manufacturing industry. The collaboration includes the co-production of the Technology, Industry, People, and Economics (TIPE) Conference, which features an all-women lineup of speakers and panelists. This year’s virtual global TIPE event is Jan. 24 -26, followed by the launch of the “Wi3DPShowcase” at RAPID + TCT in Chicago in May. This important showcase will extend the value of TIPE with an in-person experience. In addition, the collaboration will offer a NextGen Mentorship Pilot and a co-authored Diversity for Additive Manufacturing 2023 Annual Report.

Tooling U-SME, the workforce development arm of SME, delivers versatile learning and development solutions to the manufacturing ecosystem. Tooling U-SME continues to highlight workforce development programs across the country that provide manufacturing career paths to employees, while helping employers build much-needed talent pipelines.

One inspiring program is the Rhodes State College Uniquely Abled Academy in Lima, Ohio. It is the first college in Ohio to partner with the Uniquely Abled Academy, founded in California by Ivan Rosenberg, designed to shift the paradigm of thinking from “disabled” to “uniquely abled.” The Rhodes State program moves highly functioning autistic individuals into good-paying manufacturing jobs. This nontraditional program helps build the manufacturing workforce to fill Ohio’s need for labor. Graduates qualify for several entry-level positions, including machine trainee, machinist apprentice, CNC operator, and CNC programmer. The curriculum was provided in part by Tooling U-SME.

The SME Education Foundation continues to reinforce its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by providing increased programming opportunities to underrepresented students in communities across the country. The Foundation aims to dramatically increase the number of scholarship awards that it issues annually to minorities and women pursuing manufacturing or engineering careers. To this end, a new DEI scholarship was established in 2021 with a $2 million endowment from the Foundation Board of Directors; and another $2 million is being raised for the program from private industry. The goal is to achieve race and gender parity within the Foundation’s scholarship programs by 2025.

The Foundation’s DEI initiatives also include partnerships with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as with trade associations and student organizations that focus on women and minorities.

As part of a larger membership diversity strategy, SME has extended its partnership with Women in Manufacturing (WiM) to conduct two virtual career fairs this year, with the first taking place Feb. 9. The two non-profit organizations have partnered previously in different capacities in recent years to promote a reciprocal membership opportunity and in marketing each other’s programs and events.

Additionally, the SME Member Council established a Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Group to further initiatives that support and aid the growth of underrepresented groups within SME’s membership, particularly females and minorities. One of the initiatives of the task group includes a pilot program to launch later this year with an HBCU and a Hispanic Serving Institution that will focus on leadership development and open pathways and access for students to integrate into the larger federation.

As an organization, SME will continue to prioritize diversifying services to reach broad audiences. I encourage organizations to make a personal commitment to enhancing diversity within their sphere of influence and embrace a culture of inclusivity. The manufacturing community will improve and benefit because of our collective efforts.

What DEI Is

The term diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI for short, has become widespread across Corporate America—and throughout the world—in recent years as the competition for top talent increases.

But what exactly does DEI mean? Why is it important? And how are manufacturers implementing their own strategies for success?

In our new Inclusive Insights section, which will appear every other month in Manufacturing Engineering, we’ll highlight a variety of industry initiatives as well as the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Let’s start with a basic definition: DEI encompasses policies and practices designed to make people of various backgrounds feel welcome and ensure they have support to perform to the fullest of their abilities. Here’s what the three components mean:

  • Diversity refers to the presence of differences within the workplace, including ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and socioeconomic background.

  • Equity is the act of ensuring that processes and programs are impartial, fair, and provide equal possible outcomes for everyone.

  • Inclusion is the practice of making people feel a sense of belonging at work.

Together, they can provide substantial and lasting benefits for both employees and employers, as well as society at large. The goal is to create a more equal playing field, while providing a diversity of experience and opinions for a better overall team environment.

While a lot of progress has been made, there is still a long way to go—and much to learn—for all of us. SME is no different. As the leading advocate for manufacturers, SME is committed to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion across the industry, as well as within our internal operations (see accompanying story). We look forward to continuing to move forward in our journey and share others’ successes in upcoming issues.

—Senior Editor Steve Plumb

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