Why diversity builds better cars

DRIVEN 10x21 Foxx_Dupri Detroit is what it means to be Driven.
Detroit made its greatest impact on the world in two areas: the mass production of the automobile, pioneered by Henry Ford, and music. It was Detroit that put the world on wheels, and it was Detroit that provided the world the tunes to sing and hum while driving those cars.
Detroit has always been a Driven city, ever since the days when thousands of African Americans heard the call of better wages – and a better life – from Detroit’s auto factories. Few who worked in those factories would express fond memories of the often mind-numbing, and sometimes brutal working conditions, but despite the challenges, Ford’s offer of $5 a day was nevertheless a far better deal than anything most black people were getting Down South. Brutal living and working conditions was something they were accustomed to, but at least this time they would be getting some money out of the deal.
Ford introduced the $5-a-day wage in 1914. The promise of a good job and a better life attracted thousands of immigrants and African Americans, a consequence that forever altered the dynamic – and the complexion – of America’s Motor City. Today, a little over a century later, African Americans and other minorities are contributing considerably more to the automotive industry overall – not just to Ford – than simply working in the factories. While few would argue there is still a considerable ways to go in terms of minority representation when it comes to leadership positions in the industry, most would agree that minorities are having a recognizable impact, not the least of which is forcing the industry to realize how quickly it needs to change its image to reflect the ever-diversifying market for whom they are designing their products.
Driven, which began in 2011, is the Michigan Chronicle’s way of recognizing, appreciating, and applauding multicultural achievement inside the industry and those who are steadily expanding the definition and reach of their chosen profession simply by being the best of who they are at what they do. Faye Caballero, President and CEO of Diversity Enterprise Solutions, LLC, is among those who will be recognized at this year’s event. Her company specializes in manufacturing, engineering, design and program management in the automotive, military and consumer goods industries. DES has a joint venture partnership with tier-one supplier Mayco International.
“Ninety-five percent of JV partnerships fail, but ours should be the benchmark,” said Caballero.
Currently, 90 % of DES managers and 60 % of all DES employees are women or minorities.
At the 2014 Rainbow Push Automotive Project, held in Detroit at the MGM Grand Hotel, Rainbow Push founder the Rev. Jesse Jackson said, “I don’t like the word diversity. Diversity is a bad word to me. We don’t need diversity, we need equality. Whenever the playing field is even and the rules are just, the goals are clear, and the referees are fair we can win.
In a press conference earlier in the day, Jackson complained that business leaders “keep changing the rules,” indicating that business leaders had broken agreements with regard to minority participation. Jackson cited the decline in the number of minority owned auto dealerships and minority auto supplier contracts as evidence that some agreements to increase minority participation had not been honored.
Jackson joked that in the initial automotive summit in 1999, auto leaders were up in arms about demands from the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “They thought that seven blacks coming together was the overthrow of the auto industry,” he quipped.
“Inclusion leads to growth and as growth occurs, everybody wins. Those who fought against the growth benefit the most. Just as in the New South, those that opposed [inclusion] the most, have also reaped the most benefits.”
Rainbow PUSH executive director Glenda Gill stated she’d had similar experiences with securing commitments for hiring and contracting. “Sometimes in the past we’ve had lots of lip service where companies discussed and agreed to change business practices to be more inclusive and give minorities greater access, only to change their minds or renege on promises once they return to their home offices.”
One year later, at the 2015 automotive summit, Jackson indicated that change was still occurring only grudgingly. The United States has one of the largest automotive markets in the world and is home to 13 auto manufacturers. The industry is one of the world’s most important economic sectors by revenue. However, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, it still has a long way to go to achieve a diverse and inclusive work environment at all levels of the organizational structure; from dealerships to the C-suite, to suppliers and employees.
“The auto manufacturers have maintained a one-sided relationship with minorities, viewing us as consumers rather than business partners. It is time for the auto manufacturers to shift gears and present benchmarked growth opportunities to all people of color,” said Jackson.
“Minority companies need a short-term plan for survival and long-term critical path to success with measurable goals, targets and timetables. Many of our award-winning minority companies are at an economic crossroad that is hinged on a plan for growth. There is not a talent deficit among minority companies; there is an access and commitment deficit from auto manufacturers. It is time to shift the paradigm and hold the auto industry accountable.”
Michelle Sourie Robinson, President and CEO of Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, agrees strongly with that assessment. For Robinson, leveliong the corporate playing field for women and minorities isn’t just a social initiative, it’s an economic one.
“Different thoughts, opinions, backgrounds, and styles make business better,” she said. “If everyone has the same background, the asame pedigree, you don’t get the cutting edge innovative decisions that take products and services to the next level.”
The Rainbow Push Summit focuses on inclusion for ethnic minorities in the areas of supplier diversity, human resources, advertising and marketing, technology, professional services and dealers. It is the only national conference that focuses on the automotive industry for ethnic minorities. Automotive CEO’s and vice presidents, as well as business owners and consumers, have the opportunity to discuss business issues that are relevant to the ethnic majority.
Additional reporting provided by Minehaha Forman and Keesha J. Atkins
DRIVEN will be held on Jan. 13 at the Garden Theater from 6-10 pm. For ticket information, contact the Real Times Media at 313-963-5522.

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