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The challenge of attracting a potentially more diverse workforce is an industry-wide issue and it needs to start from an early stage

Like many industries, the fmcg grocery sector still has much to do in terms of demonstrating its leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and improving efforts to attract the next generation of diverse, bright young talent. From where I’m sitting in a tech business operating within fmcg, the issue is compounded. Not only is there an issue within grocery, but there is a real lack of diversity within STEM too.

The STEM worker shortfall each year is an estimated 69,000, so it’s vital that we encourage more young people to see the value of these skills within the industry. That needs to start from an early stage. Less than 6% of UK students studying STEM subjects at university are black, which in turn means there are fewer graduates from ethnically diverse backgrounds applying for STEM roles.

Often, we find that school leavers and graduates have limited knowledge and understanding of the variety of STEM jobs available within our sector. Of course, there are the more traditional roles such as solutions consultants and data scientists, but the important message to get across is that there’s far more to STEM than, for example, just writing code.

Networking events, workshops, careers fairs and company showcase events such as ‘Black Women in Tech’ are excellent ways to ignite that spark of curiosity within a wider, more diverse generation of young people, while promoting the wide range of STEM career options available. But we need to do more.

This isn’t simply a tick-box exercise. Businesses need to understand the importance of nurturing young and diverse talent. How the industry flexes and adapts to new ways of working and thinking will be vital to the way we constantly innovate and differentiate our sector.

Supporting diversity

Of course, DE&I isn’t just about how we tackle the challenges of recruiting and training a more diverse workforce. It’s also about how we, as industry leaders, investors and consumers, promote and encourage diversity within the industry by supporting diversity on the shelf.

Shockingly, the estimated UK fmcg turnover from black-owned brands is less than 2%, with no more than three such brands currently stocked within any one UK retailer. Ethnically diverse brands are often small startups that lack the large budgets, connections and experience to succeed in today’s retail ecosystem. So, what can we do to change this and help build their brand footprint within the UK fmcg market?

The biggest challenge for new brands is to get on shelf in the first place. To be in with a chance, they need a firm, clear proposition based on knowledge and insight of both the category and the shoppers who buy it. Once in store, they’ll need to understand how shoppers are interacting with their brand, and how best to work with retailers to build distribution.

So by sharing fmcg insights, consultancy and mentoring services, we can ultimately give these brands a better chance of success.

That’s why we are working with the Add Psalt programme. A non-profit organisation set up to incubate support for black-owned brands within fmcg, Add Psalt partners with businesses like IRI to form a network of industry professionals who can coach and mentor startups to give them the knowledge and the foundation on which to build a successful brand.

We are also working with Generating Genius, an organisation created to help address the challenge of inspiring the next generation of geniuses into STEM careers, particularly those from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. Through partnerships with industry, Generating Genius aims to showcase the wide range of exciting employment opportunities available to young people who may not have been given the same life chances as others. Such partnerships also provide businesses with wider access to a more inclusive and representative talent pool of students who may be looking for alternative pathways into work.

DE&I initiatives such as these aren’t a quick fix for what is an industry-wide challenge. However, they do offer significant strides in the right direction on what should be viewed as a long-term journey. An inclusive and diverse organisation helps future growth and prosperity and it’s one that partners, investors, consumers and employees have come to expect.