SAN DIEGO, CA — Workforce issues were top of mind as professionals across the baking industry gathered at the BEMA Convention 2022. From recruitment, engagement and retention to diversity, equality and inclusion, attendees had the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics focusing on the heart of any organization: its employees.

In a panel moderated by Emily Bowers, BEMA’s VP of education and operations, intention emerged as a key ingredient for success. The panelists — Pamela Clayborne, employee and community engagement specialist at JLS Automation; Nathan Norris, director of diversity and inclusion at Highland Baking Company; Trina Bediako, CEO of New Horizons Baking Company; and Christy Pettey, chief people officer at Kwik Lok Corporation — recognized the workforce today is not the workforce of even a few years ago, and that it’s paramount for companies to meet their employees where they are.

“We recognize that the workforce that we’re dealing with is totally different. And we could decide to do things as we always have, and we won’t have anybody working on the lines,” Bediako said.

Bowers said that manufacturing as an industry is unique in that it’s not unusual for employees to stay with a company for 20 or 30 years or more. Yet as businesses adapt in an ever-changing world, implementing new programming and engaging employees can become even more important.


Bediako named inclusion and communication as two key components to bringing along legacy employees. For New Horizons, that means holding town hall meetings, launching an intranet to share information on programs and policies, and implementing a buddy system to help acclimate new hires.

Pettey said that giving employees more ownership over new programs is helpful to mitigate resistance to change. For example, Kwik Lok workers were given choice as to what videos they watched as part of their first diversity and inclusion training, which she said that helped reduce some of that friction.

“We all know the book ‘Who Moved My Cheese.’ Nobody wants their cheese moved,” Clayborne said. “We have to really hold those employees tenderly and guide them along and let them know that their historical knowledge is respected—but change is important. It comes back to being a listener of each employee, not just the newer ones who have really fresh ideas from where they came, but also the employees who were there and may have fresh ideas that were never heard.”

Panelists said that intention is particularly important with matters of diversity, equity and inclusion, and that to have a real, meaningful impact, company efforts need to do more than simply check a box.

Bediako said establishing clear objectives and defining metrics can help focus efforts. But delivering on those objectives and hitting those metrics is vital.


“At the end of the day, do what you say you’re going to do,” she said.

Norris emphasized the need for leadership teams to lead by example when it comes to matters of DEI, as well as deliver consistent messaging from the top down. Bediako echoed that sentiment.

“If our leaders don’t know the message, then our employees don’t get the message,” she said. “Leaders direct the culture. the culture directs the behavior, and the behavior directs the results.”

Diversity was also at the forefront when discussing recruitment. Hiring candidates who are varied in thought and experience—at all levels—was another common refrain.

“It’s the diversity of thought,” Pettey said. “If you’re looking for that, naturally you end up with more statistically diverse people because they’re not coming from the same place. So, if you’re hiring the best candidate and appreciating diversity of perspective, then that helps move it along.”


Panelists also discussed the current “employee’s market” and the shift from solely an employer-driven recruitment and hiring strategy to one in which candidates are interviewing the employer just as much as they are being interviewed.

Clayborne said candidates often come armed with good questions that challenge her to think more deeply and meet the needs of the incoming candidate pool.

“They will ask about culture. They will ask about career pathways. They will ask about the benefits. Some of them will even ask very provocative questions about why we are there, how long we’ve been there, why we stay and what’s important to us in the company. And that’s an important thing.”

According to Pettey, this shift in recruitment and hiring dynamics led her team to rewrite job descriptions with the current job market in mind. That meant highlighting the company’s values and culture as well as combing through language that might suggest gender or racial bias.

“We know people are pickier right now,” she said. “If we don’t sell ourselves to them at the beginning, they might not even consider applying.”

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