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Promotions Lag for Women, Minorities in U.S. Transportation Jobs, Study Shows

February 8, 2024

In 2023, MichAuto and the State of Michigan partnered with KPMG and the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion, and Advancement (CADIA) on a study to establish baseline data and provide benchmarks for diversity, equity, and inclusion across the industry. The study also identified critical focus areas to achieve inclusive talent and leadership development.

Ed Garsten
Feb. 6, 2024

While diversity in the transportation industry is roughly the same as in other industries, women and racial and ethnic minorities lag in leadership positions, according to a study released this month.

The study was conducted by CADIA, a Livonia, Michigan-based organization that provides diversity, equity and Inclusion tools, networks, insights and practical advice to companies in the automotive and mobility industries.

It was based on information collected from 40 companies in the U.S., Germany and Canada representing 690,000 employees.

At about 24%, the proportion of women in the transportation industry lags the overall U.S. workforce by 23%, according to the study which also found women are the most underrepresented in skilled trades and technical positions, with only 7% of craftworkers and 18% of technicians identifying as female.

The gap in upward mobility is similar for those workers representing racial and ethnic minorities.

“They have higher representation than other industries at that entry-level, but when you get up to the senior exec level it’s about 7%,” said Cheryl Thompson, founder and CEO of CADIA, in an interview. “When we look deeper into where are those workers we can see ethnic and racial minorities are generally in those entry-level roles, which tells me that we’re not doing a great job of providing career pathways.”

In that same vein, racially and ethnically diverse employees are underrepresented in senior leadership and management roles at 22% relative to their representation in the industry at 33% and the overall U.S. workforce at 38%, according to the study.

The largest gap is among Black or African American employees who represent 14% of the workforce but only 7% of senior leadership and manager positions, the study found.

That particular disparity may be a factor in the high attrition rate among Black or African American employees in the transportation industry who made up 40% of all attrition, compared to only making up 21% of the workforce.

Lack of upward mobility also contributed to a high attrition rate among women. Citing data from survey respondents who provided such information, the study found the proportion of promotions for women over the last 12 months, 29%, was “generally in line with the share of the overall workforce, 29%. However, the proportion of female attrition was higher, 35%, which suggests more difficulty in retaining women.”

Promoting diversity not only results in a more inclusive work environment, it makes a difference in quality, creativity and productivity.

“I think sometimes if you don’t have any diversity, that status quo or that groupthink can come into play, and we’re not challenging each other. When we bring diversity into the room, there’s a little bit of competition,” noted Thompson. “When we can create an environment that’s inclusive, and where people feel safe speaking up, they’re going to bring up a maybe an idea they have for quality improvement.”

Diversity also plays a big role in product development. Thompson gives the examples of considering, where in a minivan a woman could store her purse, or how a tier one supplier was faced with the issue of how to ask the question of whether or not a visor would work with people of color.

“So they went to the legal team, and the legal team said, go see the DEA officer,” Thompson explained. “So they went and talked to the DEI officer and she said, well, the way you want to phrase that is to say I want to make sure it works on people with all skin tones, and oh, by the way, have you thought about how high or low someone sits in the vehicle? They’re wearing glasses or contacts? Did they have cataracts or laser LASIK surgery. So I think that it is definitely affecting not only products and components but also services.”

The study suggests several strategies for improving diversity in the transportation industry which include:

  • Talent attraction: Increase career awareness and outreach to candidates in diverse communities and promote equitable access to professional development and leadership advancement for mid-career employees.
  • Retention: Establish employee resource groups and start mentorship and sponsorship programs.
  • Reskilling and developing: Create training programs across the industry and address future skill needs and support diverse workers with support systems like ERGs to overcome potential barriers.
    Thompson also suggests in addition to recruiting a diverse workforce, panels interviewing job candidates are diverse and new hires are supported by ERGs, which can be effective for creating new connections between diverse employees.

Now that the initial study is complete, next steps include holding focus groups with employers to gain additional insights and conducting updated follow-up studies every two years “to measure progress.”