Caterpillar: 3 Biggest Resource-Group Challenges for Manufacturers

November 8, 2013 9:15 pm


Caterpillar: 3 Biggest Resource-Group Challenges for Manufacturers

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What’s the biggest diversity-management  challenge for manufacturers? Our survey of manufacturing companies told us it is starting resource groups, getting workers in plants to join, and measuring results.

Here is a case study of Caterpillar, the global manufacturer of industrial equipment and one of our 25 Noteworthy Companies. We chose Caterpillar because the company uses its groups successfully for talent development and has increased resource-group membership from 2 percent to almost 18 percent of all employees (including plant operations) in the last year. Caterpillar is using its groups actively to improve its recruitment and talent development.

Caterpillar Plant Resource-Group Tips• Schedule meetings when most convenient for members. Latasha Gillespie, Director of Global Diversity, notes: “Employee-resource group membership is open to all active Caterpillar employees and participation in employee-resource groups is considered voluntary effort. … Employee-resource groups are encouraged to schedule meetings and events at times that are not disruptive to normal operations, particularly our manufacturing and logistics operations.”• Participation is not hard to sell when resource-group goals are linked to corporate strategy and are a part of leadership requirements—such as “to field the best team.”

• Understand business needs and be accountable for important results. The Latino and Korean resource groups led successful advocacy campaigns for passage of U.S. North America Free Trade Agreements (with Columbia, Panama, Korea).

• Measure everything. Initiatives that save money, beat the competition, help recruit and improve work process are the ones that get funded.

• Use technology. “We currently utilize a form of social media that allows all Caterpillar employees access to join and be informed of employee-resource group information and events,” says Gillespie. “Employees also have access to the global diversity and inclusion website.”

• Frequently gauge what members want. Host activities that pay off for their careers.

• “Engaging production people is tough. They have less access to email. WIN uses videotapes,” says Graham. Gillespie adds: “Diversity and inclusion information can be accessed at any time by all Caterpillar employees through the internal social-media site for each group.”

• Communicate success often and widely, from the home page when staff turn on their computers to being on the agenda of CEO briefings. The CEO, senior leadership, resource-group leaders and executive sponsors should use multiple channels to communicate resource-group success.

Below are the company’s initiatives and lessons learned:

1. Young Professionals of Caterpillar

Increase recruitment of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians and women

  • “We intend for Caterpillar to be the top company for young professionals … and for young professionals to drive that success.” (Lindsay Williambrown, Chair of Business Development, Young Professionals)
  • Goal was 50 applicants. In Year 1, 73 applied, with 20 selected and four hired.

How did they do it? 

  • Launched a Six Sigma case competition, partnering with Peoria, Ill.-based Bradley University (Caterpillar is headquartered in Peoria), which attracted engineering and business-school majors from diverse backgrounds.
  • Engaged them in solving actual Caterpillar manufacturing problems. Students worked on teams with Caterpillar employees who volunteered their time.
  • Used Six Sigma discipline, integral to Caterpillar culture.


  • Initiative has to be replicable. Plans for an additional college and company site.
  • Having proven its value, initiative has no problem attracting funding.
  • Set 40-plus key performance indicators (KPIs) at the onset and met each one. KPIs continue to be tracked to fine-tune the program.
  • Young Professionals of Caterpillar has grown to 2,700 members with 11 chapters around the globe since 2009.

2. Women’s Initiatives Network (WIN)

Build a pipeline of women engineers

  • WIN’s first “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at Caterpillar” attracted more than 100 middle-school girls (exceeding its goal) and their teachers to the Peoria campus.
  • Caterpillar’s women engineers and plant workers volunteered time to describe their careers and jobs.
  • On getting managers to take time off to work on the initiative: “Women talent development is a challenge area in our Vision 2020 strategy. WIN work that furthers inclusion is part of every manager’s goals.” (Amanda Graham, Group Leader, WIN)


  • 98 percent of the girls surveyed said they would recommend Caterpillar and this program to a friend; most would participate again and would consider an engineering career.
  • In three years, WIN’s 13 chapters have grown to 24. Membership grew 30 percent year over year to more than 2,000 women.
  • Members of resource groups like WIN register 10 percent higher engagement than employees not in resource groups.

3.  Korean Resource Group

Increase global plant communication

  • When the company acquires global plant operations, it opens resource groups in those countries when possible. This was the case when operations were acquired in Seoul, South Korea. The group is now a blend of Koreans in Seoul, and Korean-Americans and non-Koreans in the United States. 40 percent of group members are not Korean, says Greg Folley, executive sponsor.
  • Folley found that on-boarding the Korean workers, most of whom do not speak English, was facilitated by group membership.
  • Folley added: “My plant managers participate in two resource groups in some capacity: as executive sponsors or on leadership boards. Leaders get to know the staff, and staff their leaders.”


  • Seoul workers added business value quickly by submitting a competitive analysis that helped develop the strategy Caterpillar is using to compete with Korean manufacturers.