Seven Ways Transportation Can Move the Needle in D&I

We know that diversity and inclusion (D&I) are good for business, and some companies have embraced these principles to move their businesses forward. On the other hand, some industries continue to struggle with challenges from a declining workforce, talent gaps, loss of customer engagement, and other trends, despite the clear potential benefits that could be gained from D&I. In transportation, we know that our industry faces every one of these challenges, yet we are among the slowest to adopt D&I principles.

In our recent Virtual Roundtable D&I Summer Series, we spoke with various professionals on proven strategies to build diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Together with series facilitator, Tremaine Maebry, guest speakers discussed examples from traditional corporate settings, from healthcare, and from the insurance industry.

From his position as Manager in the Office of Diversity and Civil Rights for a Midwest railroad company, Maebry took some time to reflect on what can be learned from these discussions and how we might effectively bring D&I best practices to Transportation. Below are his eight suggestions for moving the needle for D&I in Transportation.

1.    Talk the Talk (of senior leadership)

“As employment professionals, diversity professionals, inclusion professionals, we really need to start talking another language. We need to up our game,” said Maebry. When trying to move D&I initiatives forward, a lot of resistance can arises negative impressions of what diversity means.

Because conversations around diversity can be uncomfortable, people tend to shy away from the topic to the point where many D&I professionals feel excluded in the workplace. In his own experience, Maebry has found that, in spite of his law degree and a dozen years of experience and in spite of his MBA in marketing, people will often disregard his contributions out of hand because of his association with D&I. People assume that someone who is passionate about inclusion is too soft-hearted to do the “real work” of business.

Maebry suggests that D&I professionals talk about what they do in terms that resonate with their coworkers and senior leaders.  “I try to use other words that talk about bringing people into the fold. For instance, I say that I am a human capital professional that will help you bring more talent into your pipeline, when talking to organizational leaders about targeted recruiting efforts. Or, I mention mitigating risk factors when developing HR policies and in reviewing current practices.  These are things that get their attention,” he said.

2.    Find the Shiny Pennies

In our first roundtable, George Watts and Laurie Blazek talked about aligning communication strategies to match the personalities and interests of the people you are trying to reach. Maebry agrees this is helpful and suggests finding the “shiny penny” topics, the issues that are top of mind for the organization’s leaders. From this perspective, the benefits of D&I practices can be related to the interests of decision makers and be more likely to gain support.

3.    Be Intentional

Real progress is more likely when an organization sets clear goals. In our third roundtable, Angela Russell, from CUNA Mutual Group, described how senior leadership at her company made inclusion a priority by rolling it into the corporate vision.

“We need to start tying performance measures for diversity and inclusion to the performance measures for all employees,” said Maebry.

He explained that this should be for employees at every level, not just managers and not just for recruitment. This should be a top-to-bottom mandate. Without a culture of inclusiveness, hiring managers might hire the required mix of diverse applicants, but they won’t necessarily put those applicants in positions of influence.

“This applies in Targeted Marketing. Or, when trying to recruit minorities or people with disabilities into professions that have been historically exclusive. Your marketing and your recruiting has to be intentional. You can’t just put it on LinkedIn or Monster  and hope that people are going to come to you,” said Maebry.

According to Maebry, Transit is a good example of a brand that could use an infusion of diverse marketing and recruiting viewpoints. “Traditional marketing and recruiting efforts don’t appeal to millennials. They don’t appeal to women. They don’t look inclusive or welcoming,” he said.

4.    Ask, “Who does this burden?”

One of the best practices described by Russell is important when writing policies or instituting new practices. Maebry agrees that it is important to be asking questions like, “Does this policy burden or benefit?” And, determine whom might be burdened by it. If it does burden someone, then involve them in finding the solution.

5.    Address unique challenges of the public sector

Much of the transportation industry is in the public sector, making some of the strategies that work in the corporate environment less effective. Further, these fields can be highly regulated, throwing seemingly endless hurdles in the way of change.

However, Maebry points out that diversity, equity and inclusion offer powerful tools for repairing and nurturing an organization’s public image, which can be the lifeblood of a public resource’s success of failure.

In our second roundtable, Bridgett Willey from UW Health spoke about the importance for an organization to have a staff with a similar demographic makeup to the community that it serves.

“Transportation professionals, particularly with the railroads, just need to get out of their own way and take some intelligent and calculated risks. It’s such a heavily regulated industry, so I often hear, ‘We can’t do this because we’re heavily regulated, we can’t do that because of regulations.,’” explained Maebry.

“We have to work in a concerted way on our perception and our relationships with the community,” said Maebry.

6.    Keep moving the needle

“Once you become complacent, you’re done,” said Maebry. While goals do not have to be huge, Maebry sits down with his team every year to set new goals. These goals are evaluated every quarter and the team tries to determine which tactics were the most successful. For example, did attending more meetings throughout the organization get the D&I team included in more discussions?

Every year, more goals are added and existing goals are kept. “You have to do that. You have to hit people from different angles in order for these initiatives to take root and develop,” said Maebry.

7.    Be pioneers

During his career, Maebry has seen senior leadership judge their organization’s performance against the performance of their peers. When their peers aren’t making huge strides in D&I, then it is almost like an excuse to be complacent.

“My response would be, ‘No. We need to be pioneers,’” said Maebry.