Auto Succeeds Where Tech Struggles in Diversity

Tech has been in the spotlight lately for its issues with diversity and being more inclusive in its leadership. These problems are caused by a variety of things from the “pipeline” of talent not being large enough to lack of belonging and community in the company culture.

But as the tech industry struggles to recruit and retain people of color and other minorities, the Auto industry has found some success with their D&I efforts.

Tech’s Diversity Struggle

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal “tech companies like Google, Facebook and Intel have shown little progress since first releasing their diversity numbers in 2014.”

Google released demographic data in 2014 showed that only 2% of the company employees were black. Some tech companies don’t even recognize they have a problem.

A survey by Atlassian, a San Francisco-based software firm 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, reported. “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.”

Diversity in Auto

General Motors

General Motors found in a recent report 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% of the total U.S. workforce at General Motors, according to the company’s 2017 “Diversity & Inclusion” report. GM also reported that 35% of all of the company’s U.S. hires were minorities in 2016.”

Mary Barra, the chairman and CEO of GM, said in the report 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.”

And the global chief diversity officer for GM, Ken Barrett, 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. For us, diversity may be the picture, but inclusion is the test.”

Barrett also said, “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.” And the company has to possess cultural competency inside the organization; it’s that awareness that ultimately helps GM to connect with their customers for it to be relevant and successful in the industry.

GM launched the first minority supplier program in the auto industry in 1968, according to their “Diversity & Inclusion” report. GM also initiated the first minority dealer program in the auto industry in 1972 and the first women’s dealer program in 2001.

Barrett pointed out that GM 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. She worked her way up to being a chairman and CEO. Alicia Boller-Davis, an African-American woman, started out as an intern as well and is now the executive vice president for global manufacturing.

Barrett stated that  the former global design chief for GM, Ed Welburn, was also the first African American designer ever hired at GM.“He came in during 70s and was able to move all the way up,” said Barrett. She 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 got more to do,” said Barrett. “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.”

General motors isn’t the only auto company making headway in their D&I efforts. Volkswagen has also found success recently.


Lisa Brown is the diversity and inclusion consultant for Volkswagen Group of America. She said recently 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. 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.”

Volkswagen has not only worked on getting more women into leadership, but also helping solve the “pipeline” issue and getting more talent trained for the next generation. “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,” said Brown.

The Black community has such strong buying power, the automotive industry must cater to the Black demographic. Brown states, 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.” These companies need to not only market to this community, but include them in leadership. She continued, that “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.”

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