Valuing Diversity Print E-mail
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Written by Susan Mucha   
Monday, 05 December 2011 14:36

A good diversity program makes it possible for top talent to succeed.

During this year’s SMTA International, I had the pleasure of attending my first electronics industry women’s networking event. It wasn’t the first year for this event. IPC has held a women’s networking breakfast at its conferences for several years. However, it was the first time my schedule had synced up with the event. And, to be honest, after 30-plus years of working in a male-dominated industry, networking events with the word “women” in the title weren’t high on my priority list.

Women who have spent their careers in an evolving electronics industry found the best path to success was to work hard and do our best to outperform fellow team members. For the most part, we didn’t talk about the things that made us uncomfortable out of fear that it would get us labeled as overly sensitive or reinforce the fact that we were “different” from most of our peers. The concept of mentoring was also alien because there simply wasn’t a large pool of women in senior positions or structured mentoring programs. The industry is far better now in terms of management gender diversity and management development training. HP and IBM are now led by women. When I started teaching IPC EMS Program Management certification courses in 2003, it was rare to see more than one or two women. The last one I taught had more women enrolled than men.

So, if trends are improving, what is the benefit of additional discussion? As a woman I’ve seen practices that encourage productivity and growth and practices that increase the overall cost of human capital by increasing turnover or motivating poor performance or employee-related litigation. Glass ceilings aren’t the result of intentional discrimination. They occur because the person we trust most looks back at us in the mirror every morning. We tend to trust and promote those who subconsciously remind us of ourselves. In a diverse environment that can result in a diverse team, but in an environment where there is a dominant management demographic, those who vary from the norm may be overlooked for choice assignments and higher-level promotions. And knowledge gaps can be career killers. The village idiot who reminds the boss of himself when he was younger gets coached when he makes a mistake. The person who is different gets criticized or labeled as a b-lister when a mistake is made. However, workplace diversity continues to increase, and being different is becoming the new normal. There are differences in attitudes generationally and culturally, as well as by gender. Non-biased teambuilding becomes even more important to ensure that differences coalesce into strengths.

The goal of a good diversity program shouldn’t be to create a politically correct environment where everyone tiptoes around, afraid of saying the wrong thing. Nor should it shift the “balance of power” from one group to another. Instead, it should attract top talent, educate them on corporate values, and provide the encouragement and safety nets needed for that talent to be productive and grow, regardless of gender, national origin, race, religion or any other “difference” that makes an individual a minority in their workplace. In short, the right focus builds bridges between team members, rather than emphasizing differences, and focuses on performance to clearly defined goals.

The real question today for the 21st Century isn’t, “How well do you treat women or any other minority group in your company?” Instead, it’s, “Is your company doing the right level of focused recruiting, mentoring and performance measurement to ensure an adequate pool of talent in critical job functions over time?” If you are doing the right things to develop a diverse talent pool, everyone benefits.

The challenge for companies in a margin-sensitive industry becomes finding the resources to support these efforts. Not easy, since the most important element in creating a level playing field in technical careers actually starts in high school.

Interestingly enough, I see smaller companies addressing this challenge sometimes more aggressively than their larger competitors because they tend to be more closely linked to their communities. While larger companies may focus on broader science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives, smaller companies may take a more hands-on approach. As an example, one plastics company CEO I know cultivates the high school and technical school counselors in his area, because he understands that if they don’t understand manufacturing career paths, they can’t guide students into picking the right classes to succeed. I’ve also seen EMS companies work with community college and university manufacturing technology and engineering programs to ensure their curricula are aligned with knowledge needs. My master’s degree from the University of Alabama-Huntsville was the result of one such effort. Back in the 80s, the larger technology corporations in that region (including two EMS companies) worked with the local university system to define evening curriculums that met their job skill requirements and allowed their employees to more easily attend classes and earn advanced degrees. Those companies also had tuition refund programs available to full-time employees that paid for the classes. It was a great system that created value for both employees and employers.

We will continue this conversation next time.

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (, and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 December 2011 11:47


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