Diversity and inclusion of thought is key to evolving industry

In 1986, she began working as a food service worker inside the diner at Ford Motor Company. Over the next three decades, Cheryl Thompson moved up through the ranks at Ford, going from the kitchen to the plant, working as a tool and diemaker, manufacturing engineer, engineering supervisor, and then global prototype manager.

Ultimately, Thompson’s years of hard work and advancement begot a new passion – increasing diversity and leadership opportunities for women and minorities in the automotive industry.

Today, Thompson is no longer with Ford, but is the founder of the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement (CADIA), whose mission is to “double the number of diverse leaders in the automotive industry by 2030.”

Margaret Baxter is CADIA’s executive director. She briefly spoke on Thompson’s professional journey at the 2020 MICHauto Summit while participating on a panel exploring diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a business imperative for the evolving automotive industry, as it seeks to meet new challenges. John McElroy, host of Autoline, served as the panel’s moderator.

Baxter helps companies recognize and define their needs for diversity and inclusion. “Every company has a different currency when it comes to their motivations for D&I. There’s got to be a business case too and tying it back to the business is really important,” said Baxter.

Kristen Tabar also champions diversity and inclusion in the workplace as vice president of the Technical Strategy Planning Office at Toyota Motor North America Research & Development (TMNA R&D) in York Township, Mich.

For Tabar, her company’s D & I efforts means going beyond Toyota’s homogenous approaches in its Japan market, and instead developing a diverse talent base to better reach and fully represent Toyota’s customers in America. “It really goes back to representing people that we serve. So, we need to have different voices, different people in the different markets that we represent,” said Tabar during the panel.

As CEO of NYX, LLC, a minority-owned auto supplier company in Livonia, Mich., Jatinder-Bir “Jay’ Sandhu provides leadership to a multilingual, multicultural staff. “It’s in our DNA that we’re going to look at different cultures and accept them,” said Sandhu.

NYX has implemented several practices to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion, ultimately aimed at getting new employees acclimated and focused on performance. This includes a “buddy program” that pairs new employees with other employees that share their language. Sandhu also described how NYX provides its employees with a library containing all 30 languages spoken in the workplace, as well as digital options to work in their own language, and extensive opportunities to learn English as a second language.

As a result of its D & I, Sandhu said NYX’s employee attendance and turnover are better than the industry’s average. But, Sandhu still emphasizes the complexity of creating a diversity and inclusion plan, which he says should start with hearing out employees. “Once you have that dialogue, then start from the ground up, and then build upon that success.”

Tabar agreed that developing D & I requires collaboration, saying, “I think it’s a tone from the top of the leadership ranks. I think it’s the grassroots efforts of our business partnership groups spread throughout the company.”

Baxter echoed Tabar in saying D & I requires strong support from the top: “We’ve surveyed a lot of our members and companies, and they say that’s really one of the keys to success for any effort in diversity and inclusion is really having the C-suite onboard, understanding and full force.”

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