President, Women of Color Automotive Network
Kerri Wise wants people to see race and gender.
She wants them to recognize when a company's board of directors all look the same and when an event doesn't have diverse speakers.
"I want to bring to light these things — not ignore them," said Wise, president of Women of Color Automotive Network, a nonprofit co-founded by Wise and three other women in August 2020, just months after protests erupted across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis.
"I want us as an industry to see people because when we see them, we'll notice when they're missing, too," she told Automotive News.
When Wise entered the auto sector more than 20 years ago, as a woman of color, she often felt like "the only one" — a notion also experienced by many of WOCAN's members, she said.
"It can be isolating. It can be lonely," said Wise, who also is chief marketing officer at AutoFi, a digital car sales and finance platform. "It can make you question whether this industry is for you."
With WOCAN, Wise saw a way to give back and to address the industry's diversity gap.
"As a woman of color, you can work at an OEM, or you can be an executive at a vendor, or you can be a service technician," she said. "Part of it is showing them that it's possible because that statement, 'If you can't see it, you can't be it,' is absolutely true."
Wise's work through WOCAN centers on connecting, supporting and empowering women of color working in or considering the auto industry as well as providing a safe space for them to share their unique challenges.
A year after its launch, the nonprofit now has more than 530 members, 95 of whom are ally members — organizations and people who are not women of color — who joined WOCAN to support the cause.
Wise said the organization's biggest achievements, in addition to growing its membership, include monthly speaker events with executives such as Olabisi Boyle, Hyundai Motor North America vice president of product planning and mobility strategy, and Bob Ross Auto Group President Jenell Ross as well as educational workshops, scholarship awards and networking opportunities.
"What's promising is seeing companies and entities leaning in on this conversation. Now the question is going to be: Are we going to execute on the conversation?" Wise said. "Is there going to be real, tangible change? That's really the challenge in front of us now. We've talked about it. We understand the problem. Now what are we going to do about it?"
— Audrey LaForest