For these next two volumes in our Diverse Realities series, I decided to get some input from a couple of diverse personnel members from within the industry. These members of the industry agreed to have their unedited answers published on the basis of anonymity. I had the personnel identify how long they have worked in the industry and asked the potentially complicated question:
“What role, if any, has race played in your corrugated career?”
Here are their unedited answers:
Integrated Plant Manager, South East. Hispanic, 25 years in Corrugated:
Being bilingual helped me become more effective. My first experience in the corrugated industry was in 1989, where I worked for a small company in my hometown of Los Angeles, California. I found the entire process to be very intricate and interesting. In 1990, I moved to Texas where I began working for a corrugated box plant. The facility was located in a border city where the majority of the employees primarily spoke Spanish. It was advantageous to be able to communicate and build rapport with the employees. It facilitated the ease of developing their skills since I was able to communicate with them in the language that they felt most comfortable. I was promoted to Plant Manager within five years of my employment with this particular company. I have no doubt that being bilingual has contributed to my ongoing success. I now find myself working at corrugated facility in Florida under the same conditions. I truly believe that being able to engage employees in their language has enabled the process to connect with them.
Integrated Production, Southeast. Caucasian. 25+ years in Corrugated:
As a white man in the corrugated industry I have certain privileges extended to me that are not extended to those that are not considered white. My promotions and pay were not a “problem”. It could easily be said that I advanced and was hired on several occasions because of my color. I recall well in one interview that it would be a requirement to be part of the Brotherhood. (Euphemism for KKK – I did not take the job!) Yes – a rather sad statement of affairs. If you find this hard to believe, look around your organization. Who surrounds you in your work groups? What is “the color” of the staff in management and leadership roles? What is “the color” of the work force? What is the color of your advertising and company promotional literature? Now go to a professional meeting such as TAPPI or AICC and look around the room. I was in attendance at one in which the speaker on diversity looked at the group and said, “You are a seriously white group.” I watched the audience. They were little affected by the words. Many wondered what he was going on about.
I made the mistake of questioning these “norms” on one occasion. I was promptly told that I would not be welcome if I continued in this direction. Being early in my career, forthright and filled with the vision of what HR says is the right thing to do; I brought it to the attention of the HR staff. This was as effective as spitting into a hurricane and expecting not to get it blown back on you. HR was ill equipped for the complaint when it was directed at one of the owners. (Two weeks after reporting to HR, I was released. Message received: Do as we do in the corrugated industry, after all, you are white. But if you do not, you are not needed. For the first time, I was “not white”. The big difference, I could go back because I was white.)
It would be easy to add so many more I have seen. So many go unobserved or reported because of the employment ramifications for the complainant. The hard reality is they will suffer the worst of “the process”. The victim ends up on trial and not the offender.
A pretty grim set of observations. So is there hope? My race prevents me from answering this fully. While I may think I know what it is like to be “Not White”, I will never know.
I will answer the question this way. Hope will arrive with the death and interment of the staff born from 1930 to 1964. (Those who know their history will remember well what took place in 1964.) The generation born after this sees the world in a different way. Disagree with this? Look around at the group from 1964 until now. Ask yourselves what do they see in race and imagine them in control. They soon will be. I do see a brighter future for an integrated work force in the corrugated industry. So I patiently wait but never fully understanding because I am white.