MichAuto > Blog > Media Coverage > Guest Commentary: Progress Made on Auto Diversity, But Much Work is Left to Do

Guest Commentary: Progress Made on Auto Diversity, But Much Work is Left to Do

February 12, 2024

Automotive News
Cheryl Thompson
Feb. 7, 2024

There has been a rapid evolution and expansion of the transportation industry. A critical component for success in this dynamic landscape lies in cultivating workplaces that are not only high-tech and efficient but also diverse and inclusive.

While many organizations have incorporated diversity, equity and inclusion programs, adjusted their hiring practices and invested in early talent programs to develop a more diverse employee base, the industry has lacked the baseline data necessary to measure both the current state of diversity in the work force as well as success, and to identify key areas for improvement.

To help close this knowledge gap, the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement collaborated with KPMG LLP on “Driving Diversity: Unlocking the Power of Diverse Workforces for the Future of the Transportation Industry.” Supported by a grant from MichAuto, the study includes data from 40 companies covering more than 690,000 employees across the transportation industry, including automotivemobility, defense manufacturers, suppliers and auto dealerships.

The study focuses on the U.S. work force of transportation companies, specifically gender, race/ethnicity, leadership levels and jobs/functions. Not surprisingly, the data reveals the industry continues to trail the overall U.S. work force in the employment of women and racially/ethnically diverse talent.

The representation of women in the industry, at 24 percent, is much lower than that of women in the total U.S. work force, at 47 percent, while 33 percent of the transportation industry is racially/ethnically diverse vs. 39 percent of the overall U.S. work force.

Gaps exist in the representation of leadership, as well. Both Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino employees are underrepresented at executive, senior leadership and manager levels. The largest gap is found among Black/African American employees who comprise approximately 14 percent of the total work force but only 7 percent of leadership roles.

This data supports what we have long suspected — that there are significant imbalances of talent representation within our industry, and leadership does not truly reflect the diverse talent that contributes to our success.

These disparities are often explained by a perceived lack of qualified and trained candidates from underrepresented groups. However, a review of educational attainment data for the last 20 years reveals that the proportion of STEM degrees — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — awarded to diverse talent has improved by nearly 20 percent. We have access to an increasingly diverse talent pool, and it is up to us to engage it.

If we can bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, our industry gains a competitive edge, especially in addressing complex challenges. To be successful, we must all share the responsibility. Individuals must continue to demonstrate the importance of diversity by participating in employee resource groups and DE&I activities and by sharing opportunities for improvement with leadership.

At the corporate level, there are many best practices that have had a demonstrable impact on diversity:

  • Implement self-identifying campaigns to allow employees to provide their demographic information data.
  • Review talent sourcing, recruitment and hiring materials to identify bias, exclusionary language and requirements.
  • Focus on advancement gaps at the root by identifying and addressing inequities such as the quality of performance feedback, the ability to gain exposure and opportunities for stretch assignments, time to first promotion, and access to mentors and sponsors.
  • Consider implementing inclusive benefits and workplace flexibility to address barriers that have traditionally hindered specific demographic groups — such as working parents, caregivers or people with disabilities — from fully participating in the work force.
  • In addition to exit interviews to gain an understanding of why employees are leaving, conduct focus groups and stay interviews to understand why employees are staying. Develop action plans to address what you discover.
  • Implement programs to train and develop your existing work force to meet the new demands. Collaborating with nonprofits, educational institutions and industry groups can further reach underrepresented and diverse populations.
  • Focus on implementing initiatives that are outcome-centered and align with employee needs and the company’s mission, vision and values.

Most importantly, diversity activities must be treated like every other business objective and not as something “extra.” We must incorporate reporting measures to benchmark and monitor progress, and ensure teams and leaders are held accountable for goals — just as they would be for sales, safety, production or budget metrics.

This study is a starting point. Diversity is an ongoing process, one that changes frequently and requires transparency, honesty and communication. Through dedicated efforts to increase diversity, provide fair opportunities and foster a sense of belonging, the transportation industry can better meet customer and employee needs, adapt to market changes and sustain competitiveness in a dynamic landscape.