Auto Companies Find Success with Diversity Programs
ABOVE: Lisa Brown, diversity and inclusion consultant for Volkswagen Group of America
As tech companies struggle to recruit and hire African Americans and other minorities, companies in another billion-dollar industry, have embraced the importance of diversity and inclusion strategies that are critical to the future success of their businesses.
A recent report published by General Motors found that African Americans account for a higher share of the automaker’s workforce in the United States compared to their share of the total U.S. workforce. Blacks account for 18.1 percent of the total U.S. workforce at General Motors, according to the company’s 2017 “Diversity & Inclusion” report.
GM also reported that 35 percent of all of the company’s U.S. hires were minorities in 2016.
In the report, Mary Barra, the chairman and CEO of General Motors, said that, “at a time when the auto industry, technology and customer preferences are changing rapidly, diversity and inclusion are more vital to GM’s success than ever before.”
Meanwhile, “tech companies like Google, Facebook and Intel have shown little progress since first releasing their diversity numbers in 2014,” according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Google’s own workforce demographic data released in 2014 showed that only 2 percent of the tech giant’s staffers were Black. In fact, the San Francisco-based software firm Atlassian reported that Blacks account for just 2 percent of the tech industry’s entire workforce.
Some tech companies don’t even recognize they have a problem.
A survey by Atlassian showed, “that 83 percent of tech employees believe their company is already diverse, and 79 percent think the average team at their company has a diverse set of team members,” according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
In March, Apple shareholders rejected a plan to accelerate the company’s efforts to increase diversity among its senior management and its board of directors, TheVerge.com reported.
TheVerge.com article continued: “This is the second year in a row that Apple shareholders have shot down the proposal, with just over 95 percent of the vote opposing it this time around—slightly more than last year.”
Ken Barrett, the global chief diversity officer for GM, said that some people look at diversity and inclusion programs as the right thing to do, but the programs are also about business.
“There is a clear business case for diversity and inclusion on the inside and outside of your organization,” said Barrett. “For us, diversity may be the picture, but inclusion is the test.”
Barrett continued: “Do people really feel empowered to bring their ideas to the forefront? Do they feel empowered to tackle the challenges we face as a company and ultimately be in a position to spawn new ideas? That [innovation] will ultimately give us that competitive edge.”
Barrett said that for GM to be relevant and to win in the marketplace, the company has to possess cultural competency inside the organization; it’s that awareness that ultimately helps GM to connect with their customers.
Whether it’s concentrating on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions or major organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers or the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers or the Society of Women Engineers, Barrett said that companies must have relationships with diverse communities to attract top talent.
Barrett added that GM didn’t just start thinking about diversity and inclusion.
According to GM’s “Diversity & Inclusion” report, the automaker launched the first minority supplier program in the auto industry in 1968. GM also initiated the first minority dealer program in the auto industry in 1972 and the first women’s dealer program in 2001.
Barrett noted that General Motors takes pride in the fact that the company promotes from within.
“It’s important to note that Mary Barra started as an intern,” said Barrett. Barra worked her way through the system all the way up to chairman and CEO.
Alicia Boller-Davis, an African American woman, is the executive vice president for global manufacturing. Barrett noted that Boller-Davis started as an intern, too, and worked her way up to run one of the largest manufacturing organizations in the world.
Barrett also pointed out that Ed Welburn, the former global design chief for GM, was also the first African American designer ever hired at GM.
“[Welburn] came in during the 70s and was able to move all the way up,” said Barrett.
Barrett said that it’s important for minorities to look up and see people like Boller-Davis and Welburn.
“That’s important for us, but we’ve got more to do,” said Barrett.
Barrett continued: “We can be great today, but better tomorrow. We always want to be on the cutting edge. We just don’t want to compete and win in the marketplace, we want to compete and win that battle for talent, as well.”
Volkswagen has also ramped up its efforts to recruit and hire minorities and women.
Lisa Brown, the diversity and inclusion consultant for Volkswagen Group of America, said that in the years she has worked for Volkswagen, she has seen an increase in the amount of women who are beginning to work in a field that is mainly dominated by men.
“I’ve been with Volkswagen for 18 years and worked in after sales as an operation manager,” said Brown. “I was the first female of color and only the second woman who held that position.”
Brown continued: “Now there are a lot more women in the region teams. When I started there were one or two and now there are three or four women per region and five women in our leadership executive position.”
Along with increasing the amount of women in leadership and the workforce at Volkswagen, the company has also partnered with organizations and universities to ensure that the company has access to a highly qualified and diverse talent pool.
Brown stated, “We have partnered with the School of Business at Howard University, the National Black MBA, both the D.C. and Detroit chapters, and Inroads Inc. We also have an executive mentoring program for women.”
Brown said that because of the strong buying and consumer power in the African American community, African Americans must be conscious of how inclusive these companies are.
Due to the fact that the Black community has such strong buying power, the automotive industry must cater to the Black demographic, Brown added.
Companies need to market to the African American community and have African American leadership, said Brown.
Brown continued: “There’s a value and appreciation for understanding the partnerships we can create and we have to make sure we have a direct link to the African American community.”