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Diversity: There Is Room to Improve

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In June of this year, tED magazine published a cover story “More Than A Seat At The Table” an in-depth look at diversity, especially through the eyes of women, in our industry.

The first sentence in the second paragraph is “Still, there is room to improve.”

Yes, there is.

A study by the American Association of University Women shows women take home about 80 cents for every dollar a man in a similar position earns. At that rate over a 47-year career, a female high school graduate will earn $700,000 less than a man with a high school degree, $1.2 million less for a college graduate, and $2 million for a professional graduate. Meanwhile, women do not get the opportunity to pay 20% less on student loans, cars, groceries, clothes, or medical bills.  Only in the workplace, when it comes to equal pay, is there a 20% difference.  While that situation is improving, it’s only slowly improving.  At the rate we are advancing, women should start to receive equal pay as men by 2119.

Not 2019.

2119.

One hundred years from now.

“Still, there is room to improve.”

The problem isn’t just with pay, but also the fact that not a lot of women are in leadership roles in our industry.  Recent promotions of women at Sonepar, Eaton, and Summit Electric Supply are great steps in the right direction, but we are far from a situation where there are an equal number of women in leadership roles in our supply chain.  In fact, Inc. Magazine recently featured Salesforce, a cloud computing company that sells customer relationship software.  One of the things Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff noticed is most of his meetings contained only white men.  So he made a rule:  the company would hold no meetings unless 30 percent of the attendees were women.

Not having a “seat at the table” is also impacting our success. As Jackie Faulk, Vice-President at Rexel, pointed out, our customers are no longer a reflection of our companies. “Our customers are not vanilla and it certainly helps to create a better customer experience for our customers if we understand their buying habits and needs,” Faulk said.

“We need to be as diverse as the marketplace to understand and tackle their needs,” Farrah Mittel, regional vice president at Schaedler Yesco Distribution, Inc., said. “Sales 101 is: people like to do business with people like them. Our companies need to look like—and understand—a more diverse customer base.”

Also, you limit the potential ideas for the future when you have similar people in all of your meetings.

Jaci Battaglia, director of marketing, Monarch Electric Company/US Electrical Services, Cranbury, New Jersey, agreed. “If you put three people in a room that are the same age, gender, ethnicity and so forth, I would have to bet the likelihood of taking your ideas to an entirely new place than you have before is not going to be as high as if you mixed up your group and had people who have different perspectives, had different life experiences and take different approaches,” Jaci Battaglia, Director of Marketing for Monarch Electric Company/US Electrical Services said. “Diversity is the best way for us to keep growing and keep our ideas evolving.”

The average number of women attending NAED regional conferences last year (Eastern, Western, South Central) was 10-12%.  By Salesforce rules, there would not be enough women at the regionals to hold meetings.  The problem isn’t that NAED member companies are not trying to recruit women, the problem is they are having a hard time retaining them. When you hire a woman at an entry level, you hope you can train and mentor them to reach an executive level.  But, many times, that does not happen.  “It is an industry lead by white males and in part that’s because of subconscious bias,” Stacy Stanslaski, President of Viking Supply, told tED magazine. “Our best source of recruitment is people already in the industry and who they know, so if we as individuals aren’t diverse in our networks, how do we reach more diverse groups?”

“Our industry suffers from a lot of unconscious bias,” Tammy Livers, who was recently promoted to Senior Vice-President of Key Accounts at Sonepar, told tED. “I believe in the goodness of humanity. But our industry has a history of being mostly male, so things like the scotch after dinner, the deals on the golf course, etc. … they are not meant to be hurtful or discriminatory but it does hurt certain groups. And it hurts retention in particular.

“The problem is that when we do recruit women or minorities, we don’t retain many of them because they don’t get the kind of mentoring and sponsorship they should. At this point we have more men in leadership positions so they must make a conscious effort to sponsor females,” she continued. “Men in leadership positions are role models for both men and women, they have a responsibility to understand unconscious and blatant bias and correct situations they see happening in the work place. Women in leadership positions need to help men and women understand how to effectively deal with situations, when to speak up, how to confront issues and how to respond. Getting to equality cannot be a passive event for anyone, it will take commitment and effort on everyone’s part,” Livers added.

Livers also believes we are just scratching the surface on the diversity problem in our supply chain, and it may be much more significant than we think. But we have to do more research to find out how bad it really is.

“The one group we have is the Women In Industry,” Livers noted. “They don’t recognize the Trailblazer award at the NAED National meeting. tED magazine does a great job, but overall as an industry, we fall short at giving credit to women who are successful leaders. But think of the size of that group and what they can contribute to the larger workforce that would help build more awareness of, and interest in, our industry. I would love to see us wake up and have organizations like NAED put out real statistics [on diversity]. You hear all this talk about the lack of women in tech and STEM, but I bet if you ran the stats our industry is probably even further behind. Until we can measure what is going on we can’t understand how big the issue is or isn’t. If we had solid numbers, I think we’d have a better chance to take more targeted actions to fix it.“

There is room to improve.  This is not a topic that tED magazine is going to cover just once a year in our June issue.  We definitely welcome your feedback and ideas on how we can all make the necessary changes toward success without having to wait 100 years to get there.

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Scott Costa, Publisher, tED magazine

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