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Automotive News: Industry Diversity Needed Now

November 9, 2020
The automotive industry finds itself at a defining moment with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion. Our companies’ futures depend on our ability to attract, retain and develop talent. The growth, sustainability and financial well-being of our industry is directly correlated to making our work forces look more like the society in which we operate and the consumers we serve.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are not trends — they are necessities. This year has presented both tragedy and opportunity. The question is, can this industry truly embrace diversity, equity and inclusion and commit to transformative change?

Google the business case for diversity, and you will find multiple studies talking about the benefits of diversity on teams, in leadership and on boards. More specifically, companies with women and minorities in decision-making roles experience better financial performance, higher rates of return on investment and higher employee retention rates when compared with companies that do not. Studies have shown that companies with diverse leadership teams are eight times more likely to have better business outcomes, six times more likely to be innovative and agile and 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability when in the top quartile for gender diversity. Cultural, gender and demographic diversity will make a difference in the long-term success of the auto industry.

So why is it that in a $400 billion industry we have so few women and minorities in top leadership roles? Numbers among management, middle management and entry-level employees are not much better. Although largely unpublished, our industry has higher attrition rates for women and minorities than for white male counterparts.

Anecdotally, we know the underlying issues — unwelcoming and noninclusive corporate cultures, inflexible work environments, lack of advancement opportunities and a lack of representation in upper levels. If our industry wants to thrive, or even survive, it must change.

Our shared experiences in the automotive industry equate to more than 60 years of work in tool and die, engineering, prototype development, advocacy, sales and marketing and manufacturing. What we know is this:

  1. Investments of time, resources and money in women and minorities in leadership have been inconsistent, resulting in slow progress over the last 20 years.
  2. People of color, the differently abled and other minorities cannot solve these issues without engagement from allies and strong company leadership.
  3. In the face of an industry talent shortage, we need to expand our efforts to fill open positions with a diverse, qualified work force.
  4. Other industries have blazed a trail for us to follow.
  5. Transformation is possible with the right engagement and support.
  6. This industry is built to solve problems.
  7. It is time to change the conversation, starting with top management. CEOs must be the owners and change agents.

We call on industry leaders and CEOs to take action now. Diversity, equity and inclusion are ideas and ideals that start with the corporate culture, but they also are supported by a system that details policies, practices and procedures that ensure a level playing field for everyone. It can be done. Will it take time? Yes. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. In an industry driven by metrics, the numbers will speak for themselves.

We often talk about how Michigan “put the world on wheels.” This industry was built by the innovation and grit of immigrants, by minorities who came from the South and other places looking for a new opportunity, and by men and women who were born and grew up in Michigan. It is time we remember our roots and understand that this inflection point can lead us to a bright future if we work collectively on systematic change.

Diversity has always mattered, but this inflection point mandates that we bring it culturally, strategically and tactically to the forefront of our companies. Our economic future and opportunity for all depend on it. Make the decision to implement change. We urge you not to stand still.

This piece was coauthored by MichAuto Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr. and Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion & Advancement’s CEO Cheryl Thompson.

*Originally published in Automotive News.