This week, as I once again deliver welcoming remarks at the 20th Annual Rainbow PUSH Global Automotive Summit, my message is simple; in our increasingly diverse and multi-cultural America there is no such thing as opportunity if it’s not equally shared. Either we all are allowed to benefit from the wealth of America’s resources or we will all pay the price for not exploiting the wealth of diversity that is our greatest strength.
The Auto Summit, which was launched by Rainbow PUSH, the civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, has a primary objective of expanding the number of opportunities to African Americans into top level positions in the automotive industry. This year’s theme is “Expanding the African American Opportunity Pipeline,” which simply means there must be room made at the top for voices that aren’t all reading from the same script. And let’s be clear; opening up the boardroom isn’t just a win for the African Americans leaders who gain a seat at the table, it is an unequivocal win for that boardroom.
According to a 2018 study conducted by Automotive News and Deloitte, diversity of thinking in leadership enhances innovation by 20 percent. At the same time, diverse groups are more adept at spotting risks, thus reducing their occurrence by 30 percent.
Ultimately, if we are going to have a fully inclusive society where everyone has an opportunity to chase their dreams, we are going to need more industry leaders to make an intentional effort to bring diversity to the boardroom. We need to recognize that a non-inclusive society is a non-functional society.
We also need to realize that the key to our automotive future lies in the untapped creative imaginations of our young people. Too many of them don’t even realize that the future of automotive mobility could be synonymous with their own futures and aspirations, and that’s because their horizons have been forcibly limited for too long.
This collective creative imagination of African American youth is the sort of energy that will help set the course for the sort of cutting-edge decision-making the automotive industry’s boardrooms will require moving forward if they want to remain viable and competitive. I’ll say it again; diversity is not just good for people of color, it’s good for business.
Diversity in the ranks of auto dealerships took a big hit during the recession when 30 percent of minority-owned dealerships were forced to close their doors, compared to the 18 percent decline experienced by all other dealerships during that same period. Minority dealership ownership peaked at 1,805 in 2005, dropped to 1,156 in 2007 and bottomed out at 873 in 2011.
Within the sub-category of minority dealerships, black-owned dealerships took an even harder hit, dropping 50 percent to only 261 dealerships by January 2011. As of 2015, according to National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD) statistics, the most recent figures available, there were just 1,128 minority-owned dealerships. The largest proportion of these (552) were Latino-owned. Black-owned dealerships have hardly rebounded. According to those same statistics, only 264 black-owned dealerships remained in business at the end of 2015.
In Southeastern Michigan, including Detroit and Wayne County where we put the world on wheels thanks in large part to the sweat of black labor more than a half-century ago, the number of black-owned dealerships is a bare handful at less than ten.
I think it’s safe to say we can do better. From the showroom to the boardroom, we can use the innovation of the autonomous vehicle era to drive innovation in inclusion.