When COVID-19 swept through Camden, New Jersey, it hit the kit and packaging manufacturer IPAK very hard. The majority of IPAK’s nearly 100 employees are women and people from underserved communities, and like many other similarly situated groups, they suffered from particularly high case rates and economic disruption. But it was the company’s long commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion that helped it get through this global disaster—and even allowed it to thrive.
We spoke to IPAK CEO Karen Primak about all the company did to safeguard its employees and serve its customers. Here’s what she told us.
Keeping employees safe: The early days of the pandemic were terrible; the company had four employees in the hospital on respirators “right from the beginning,” says Primak. But IPAK responded swiftly and comprehensively:
- IPAK created an extensive COVID-19 action plan to prepare, inform and assist employees. This included an “ambassador” program so team members had a point of contact to ask about their virus-related concerns and receive answers and resources in the five different languages that employees speak.
- The company rearranged schedules to allow workers without childcare to be home when needed. Managers spent an hour or two every morning discussing how they could accommodate everyone.
- IPAK stayed current with the latest science and data, so that it could react quickly to the fast-changing pandemic. The company instituted an evolving set of daily cleaning protocols, social distancing measures, remote work provisions, masking and face shield requirements, vaccine information sessions and regular COVID-19 testing.
All these measures allowed IPAK to remain open and continue to deliver high-quality solutions to its customers throughout the pandemic. And here’s one last impressive detail: “We didn’t furlough or lay off anyone,” said Primak. “Despite all the craziness and the disproportionate impact on our employees and revenue, we remained committed to employing our workforce during this awful time.”
The “secret weapon”: How did IPAK cultivate the flexibility and dedication necessary to get through a global pandemic?
- “Diversity, equity and inclusion have been our secret weapon,” Primak said. “If you hire people like you, all you get back is you. IPAK is equipped with a range of voices and perspectives, which helps us innovate and creatively solve problems. Our commitment to put employees first and understand their needs allowed us to come together and stay operational during such a difficult time.”
Success during upheaval: IPAK also went above and beyond for its clients, including nonprofit educational-content provider ACT, maker of the well-known college-entrance exam, whose supply chain was upended by COVID-19.
- ACT was faced with shipping disruptions, shuttered test centers, constantly changing local conditions and testing center capacity constraints. It needed an agile partner who would be able to move quickly, adjust schedules and innovate in real time.
- As a result, ACT pivoted early in the pandemic and massively expanded its contract with IPAK to include the handling of secure paper-based processing, which includes creating kits and manufacturing and distributing the ACT test.
- Amid all this disruption and change, IPAK stepped up. Its staff worked tirelessly with ACT to deliver more than 2 million college-entrance exams during the pandemic.
“We worked nights and weekends and even hand-delivered some test booklets to make sure they arrived on time,” said Primak.
A great partnership: “We were the vendor that was willing to make huge and necessary changes alongside ACT during the pandemic so that many deserving students could take the ACT and benefit from the opportunities afforded by their hard work,” Primak said.
- “IPAK asked so many questions about our organization and offered a unique process optimization perspective,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin. “It was clear they had deep knowledge of the education marketplace and cared about our mission—not just their bottom line. IPAK knocked its first assignment out of the park, catalyzing ACT to outsource additional critical programs to IPAK.”
NAM involvement: Primak also credits the NAM’s work with Congress and the administration with helping IPAK survive and succeed. She is grateful for government programs such as the employee retention tax credits, economic injury disaster loans and Paycheck Protection Program loans, which the NAM advocated for, and said that without such help, the company “wouldn’t be here.”
The last word: “Helping people achieve success and ensure equity, access and opportunity for all” is ACT’s mission, said Primak. It’s that type of commitment to equity and inclusion that also motivates IPAK’s whole team, in good times and in pandemics.
The NAM and The Manufacturing Institute are committed to increasing diversity and inclusion in the manufacturing industry. Visit the NAM Pledge for Action page to make your own commitment today.
Manufacturing businesses have long been proponents of equality in the workplace. As legislation to codify protections for LGBT individuals passes through the House of Representatives, the National Association of Manufacturers joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and other members of the business community in advocating its passage, forging coalitions and providing congressional testimony.
Introduced with bipartisan support in the U.S. House and Senate in March, the Equality Act includes federal protections for individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity under the existing framework of the Civil Rights Act, which already provides protection against discrimination on the basis of religion, national origin, race, color or sex. The goal of the legislation is to ensure that no person can face legal discrimination based on their gender or sexual orientation, setting a clear federal standard to enable individuals to succeed based on their abilities and qualifications to perform a job.
“Employers understand the importance of creating an environment in which the very best people can succeed based on merit,” Patrick Hedren, NAM vice president, labor, legal and regulatory policy, said. “At the same time, manufacturers know that discrimination in any form is antithetical to the values that we work to uphold every day: equality of opportunity, individual liberty, free enterprise and competitiveness.”
In March, more than 40 other industry associations rallied to support the Equality Act, providing an important boost for the groundbreaking legislation. In the weeks since, manufacturing representatives have testified before the House Education and Labor Committee and signed a coalition letter to the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services calling for the Act’s passage. As Congress considers the way forward, manufacturers have made clear that they intend to advocate forcefully on behalf of the legislation and uphold their commitment to workers of every gender identity and sexual orientation.
“The Equality Act creates a clear federal standard that matches the sentiments manufacturers already share: gender identity and sexual orientation have no impact on an employee’s abilities and discrimination is not welcome on the manufacturing floor,” Hedren said. “We look forward to working with Congress as this important legislation moves ahead.”
Washington, D.C. – National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons released the following statement after the Department of Labor (DOL) rescinded the 2016 Persuader Rule:
Manufacturers have fought for this victory for many years in the courts, in Congress and with two administrations, using the full weight of our policy, government relations and legal teams, said Timmons. The NAM’s Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action was able to halt the rule in court in 2016.And in 2017, the Trump administration, as part of its broader regulatory relief agenda, thankfully began the process of unwinding the rule. This overreaching rule threatened to impose serious burdens on manufacturers and upend employee–employer communications. Now manufacturers are relieved that this threat to workplace communications is finally and officially off the books. Commonsense steps like this to rein in onerous regulations are a major reason why manufacturers are reporting record-high business optimism.
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action (MCLA) is the leading voice of manufacturers in the courts and engages in a range of activities, including direct party litigation and operating a robust amicus program, as well as educating manufacturers about emerging legal trends. The MCLA is led by NAM Senior Vice President and General Counsel Linda Kelly and NAM Vice President of Litigation and Deputy General Counsel Peter Tolsdorf. More information on the MCLA can be found here.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs more than 12 million men and women, contributes $2.25 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, has the largest economic impact of any major sector and accounts for more than three-quarters of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the Manufacturers or to follow us on Shopfloor, Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.