Hiring the best people for the job

[Krista O’Brien photo] Carissa Rempel handles talent acquisition and public relations for Vidir vertical storage solutions.

Manitoba manufacturer makes changes to attract women to the plant floor

A Manitoba manufacturer has successfully tackled a labor shortage by paying greater attention to an overlooked talent pool — women. Vidir vertical storage solutions plants are located outside of major urban centers. That means it has a smaller available workforce, Carissa Rempel said in a presentation at MEDA’s annual convention.

“Add to that the labor shortage that we are experiencing globally and you have a significant challenge.” Vidir, founded in 1977, began as a small machine shop on a rural farmyard. It has more than 250 employees at two locations in Manitoba and one in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Its automated material handling systems are used in over 45 countries. These products are used in the construction, retail, medical, warehouse, government, automotive, printing, and manufacturing sectors.

Vidir’s customers include many of the world’s largest firms — Walmart, Tesla, Amazon, Disney, Home Depot, Menards, and Vale. A Vidir system is even used in the White House in the United States. The company was honored as one of Manitoba’s 30 top employers in 2022. Many reasons were given for the firm’s inclusion in the list. Vidir’s emphasis on diversity and women in manufacturing, its charitable giving, and its commitment to ongoing education and development were all highlighted.

Rempel, Vidir’s talent acquisition and public relations specialist, is a third-generation shareholder in the family-owned firm. While women make up nearly half of the overall Canadian labor force, they are only 28 percent of the manufacturing workforce. “A few years ago, we were only receiving a handful of applications for open positions, and almost none of those were female, except for administrative levels,” Rempel said. Before 2021, only one in 10 of Vidir’s employees were female. That realization led Vidir to make an intentional effort to make itself more attractive to women.

Vidir decided that showcasing women in manufacturing would increase the job applications they would get from female candidates. They launched a “See them, be them” series of videos featuring women at Vidir. You can see those videos at vidirsolutions.com/women-at-vidir. They also added a maternity leave top-up and $1,000 referral bonuses.

The efforts have had an immediate impact, as applications from women increased. In 2019, the company had only two females in production roles. By the end of 2021 that had grown to 15. That year, all of its welding applicants were female. “If you can show that you are welcoming of women, you are more likely to have women apply, and if they find that, when they begin to work for you, you genuinely value and take seriously their diverse perspective, you are also more likely to retain them,” she said.

Of 85 new employees hired by Vidir in 2022, 24 have been women. That reflects the national average of women in manufacturing. Its overall workforce is now 26 percent female. Studies show that societal attitudes work against making certain careers seem welcoming for women. When asked to think of a scientist, people default to men.

Even gender-neutral images are marked as male unless explicitly named as being female, she said. “As a human race, when we are speaking about a person and there is no gender assigned, we default to male.” This bias even extends to the online world. Until 2016, the world of emojis — small digital images or icons used to express ideas and emotions — was mostly male. That year, creators began developing both male and female emojis.

Providing opportunities for women matters for many reasons, Rempel said. “You won’t know what you are missing in your business until you have the perspectives of diversity.” Diverse perspectives provide an increased workforce and new solutions to problems, she said. Daine Taimina, a female mathematician who liked to crochet, made a remarkable discovery at a geometry workshop at Cornell University.

Within two hours, her thoughts on modeling a hyperbolic plane by crocheting a model allowed her to solve a problem that had eluded mathematicians for over a century. She solved the problem within two hours. Her creations are now the standard model for explaining hyperbolic planes, which are the opposite of spheres.

“If you can show that you are welcoming of women, you are more likely to have women apply, and if they find that, when they begin to work for you, you genuinely value and take seriously their diverse perspective, you are also more likely to retain them.”

— Carissa Rempel, Vidir

These planes exist in nature in ruffled lettuce leaves, coral, sea slugs, and most importantly, cancer cells. They form the foundation of the theory of relativity and are considered “the closest thing we have to an understanding of the shape of the universe,” Rempel said. “What this story illustrates is that when we close the gender gap, it can impact literally every sphere of work.”

In relation to MEDA’s work, elevating women is “better for their families and therefore better for the future,” she said. Studies show that money controlled by women is more likely to be spent on children than money that men control. Supporting women in the workforce could also help a company’s ability to compete, she said. “Policies such as paid family and medical leave could help companies get a start on a workforce that’s more welcoming to mothers and is more internationally competitive.”

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