Diversity in Auto Companies? GM Execs Reveal The Key To Their Future

GM Diversity group with the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Our group gathered around the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

I learned something shocking this week. I learned that ‘diversity’ means me.

I never considered myself a minority. I’m part of the 52 percent of the population that is female and I’m part of some very big groups (moms, professionals, car purchase decision makers). While I always identified with minorities on many levels, I never really thought diversity applied to me until a recent visit to GM.

“When I look at you I see myself,” Jeff said. “You do?” I asked. “We have the same challenges, we face the same obstacles,” he said. I always thought that, but I didn’t realize he did, too. “We do, don’t we,” I said. “Umm-hmm,” Jeff nodded.

I had been invited to join the General Motors Diversity Communications group at the Detroit Auto Show to learn how GM embraces diversity to better design, build and market cars. Wow, did I learn a lot. About GM, about myself, and about how our world is changing.

GM, And Detroit, Are No Longer a Boys Club. They Can’t Afford to Be

The Diversity group I was part of is a dynamic, smart, accomplished group of people who are influencing the world around them: Jocelyn Allen, our host, is a communications pro and single mom who’s risen up through the ranks at GM; Zondra Hughes, CEO of Six Brown Chicks, is a Huffington Post blogger, editor, writer and sought after influencer; Dawj Sangster is a blogger, speaker, coach and a Six Brown Chicks member; MJ Tam is a leading influencer, founder of Chicagonista and Women Driving Excellence; Jeff Fortson is an accomplished journalist and founder of car site JeffCars; Sékou Writes, editor-in-chief of Simply Rides is an accomplished (and busy!) journalist; Marcus Amick is a freelance writer and consultant who works with a variety of clients in Hollywood; Jaime Galbadoni is auto editor of Spanish language Terra Networks; Javier Mota is a journalist and host of Autos 0-60 on the Spanish language Cristina Radio Network; Benson Ho is director of the Chinese language ChineseAutoWorld magazine, and Camilo Alfaro is president and editor-in-chief of Autopoyecto, the leading Spanish language car site. And me. Wow.

Senior GM Leadership is a diverse group

Some of General Motors top leaders participate in a discussion on diversity’s role at the company. L-R: Eric Peterson, Diversity Dealer Relations; Reggie Humphrey, Supply Diversity; Megan Stooke, Global Marketing; Lori Wingerter, GM Foundation; Ken Barrett, Chief Diversity Officer; Jocelyn Allen, Diversity Communications   (Photo by Jose Juarez for General Motors)

Diversity: The Secret to GM’s Sauce

During the program I came to understand that diversity is the key to GM’s future: With the “Customer as our compass,” diversity serves to harness the creative and innovative ideas of its employees, to hire and retain the best employees, to connect with consumers, to create solid supply chain relationships, and to build powerful community relationships. Diversity, it turns out, is a critical tool.

Diversity is also a fact of life, and in 2009, nearing bankruptcy, GM learned it had to adapt or perish. To achieve this, top leaders began to listen to people—to employees, customers, suppliers and communities where it operates. Hiring and promoting the best people—not just rewarding people for being loyal or long-term—and driving innovation became the goal. GM also identified where its next customers would come from: the 65 percent of car buyers who are not white men. Clearly, the auto maker had to start thinking and acting differently.

So how happy am I to discover that diversity also means me? Very! 

GM’s diversity journey of course, doesn’t stop at the door to Public Relations.  It starts in the board room. Of course we’ve all celebrated the recent appointment of Mary Barra as CEO, but the diversity of GM’s leadership is deeper than that: 40% of its corporate leaders are not members of the boys club, and neither are a huge number of the company’s engineers, designers, plant managers and more. That means that women are designing and engineering cars. And building trucks. And managing assembly plants.

And what does that mean for me, for us? It means that cars will be designed, built and sold with you in mind. It means that the view from the TOP of the company takes YOU into consideration, as well as your kids, your handbag, your need for better fuel efficiency, your need for storage, your need for a fair deal and a non-insulting sales experience. A lot of that exists already—GM’s has been putting diversity to work for a while now—and it will only get better. We have lots more to report from the Detroit Auto Show, and all of it reflects this new role that WE —the SheBuysCars community—have in the car world. After all, we make or influence 85 percent of all car purchases. Isn’t it great to be the number one customer?

Disclosure: I traveled to Detroit for the auto show and to spend time at General Motors a guest of GM, which paid for my travel and accommodations, but the access to executives was something that couldn’t be bought. The takeaway and opinions expressed here are mine.

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