Creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace is a strategic initiative here at Kenco. To shed some light on the topic, we sat down for an engaging conversation with two senior leaders driving impact in this area: Ben Staples, VP, HR and Diversity, and Kristi Montgomery, VP, Innovation, R&D.
In the conversation with Ben and Kristi, we touch on what inclusivity means at Kenco, why it’s a strategic initiative, how the company leverages technology and innovation to be more inclusive, and what their vision looks like for the future at Kenco. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What does inclusivity mean in the workplace?
Ben: I’ve thought about this a lot. I think it's really about how we make everyone, including all of our associates, feel welcome, valued, and respected in the workplace. It’s about helping them understand that they don't have to conform to what the norms have always been, and bringing out what’s special in them. Because if we can help them feel welcome, valued and respected, they’re more likely to thrive within the organization.
Ben: For several reasons, actually. For one, inclusive workplaces give employees a greater sense of belonging. They feel safer, more receptive to change, and more comfortable speaking up. They don’t feel the need to conform with the status quo. And two, what this means for the company is that we now get diversity of opinion and new perspectives, which helps us from a recruiting standpoint to open up and widen our talent pool.
Kristi: Adding onto that, we see corporations that are more diverse and inclusive outperform their competitors by 35%. So there’s a business performance and outcomes angle that we consider as well.
Ben: Exactly. The more minds, the more differing thoughts and experiences you bring to a problem, the more ways we can possibly solve it better.
Diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets (HBR)
Ben: From a pure recruiting side, being intentional about it is step number one. It’s easy to come back to the same spots that we’ve had success and to do the same things over and over. But again, it’s about being intentional in doing things a little bit different—going outside of our normal watering holes, so to speak. Part of that intentionality is having discussions with our leaders about some of the innovations that Kristi and her team are bringing to the table to help them overcome any fears or concerns hiring managers may have.
Kristi: Today, we are purposefully looking for innovation that will enable us to tackle the biggest challenge in our market right now, which is labor. We’re looking for these innovations to help us either broaden the scope of who we can hire or upskill the talent we already have with new capabilities and skill sets.
69% of executives rate diversity and inclusion as an important issue. (Glassdoor)
Q: What are some specific innovations we’ve adopted and how have they helped us be more inclusive?
Kristi: There are so many! One technology that we believe will be incredibly impactful is remote-controlled forklift operation technology. Kenco was actually the first North American 3PL to partner with Phantom Auto to pilot this technology in our Innovation Labs. Their software enables forklifts, tuggers, robots, and trucks to be remotely operated by trained operators thousands of miles away. What this means is that people who previously may have found warehouse work too challenging—like those with a physical disability or mental illness—can now find and do meaningful work here at Kenco.
Using lift assist devices and wearables, like exoskeletons, in our warehouses also allows us to be more inclusive. It used to be the case that only people who were physically able to lift heavy objects by themselves were able to work in a warehouse, but these devices help smaller-framed and older individuals to do the job just as well.
Collaborative robotics is another area we see a lot of potential, especially for an aging workforce. These robots work alongside humans to help them out with day-to-day tasks so that warehouse workers aren’t required to walk extensively to pick and pack items, for example.
Ben: I think it’s important to remember that incorporating diversity, inclusion, and innovation is a journey for any organization. So while I do think we’ve come really far, we still have a lot more we want to accomplish! However, from an inclusivity standpoint, when we look at our representation of women and people of color in leadership roles—GM and above—we are certainly making solid strides there. I would say I’m certainly pleased with that.
Kristi: For me, it’s about what I’m seeing from a company culture standpoint—and how there’s been a meaningful shift in the conversations we’re having at every level. And it’s because we’re thinking about it differently now. The progress is definitely there.
Q: What does the future look like to you?
Kristi: As an organization, if we get to the point where we stop thinking in terms of “what is this person able to do” and more about the person as a whole and how we can include them in a role here at Kenco—if there are no barriers to anyone being able to work at Kenco—then I think we've been successful with innovation and inclusion.
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