IT director, industrial platform, Ford Motor Co.
Rekha Wunnava has experienced firsthand how a lack of diversity can negatively impact a work environment.
A native of India who lives in Dearborn, Mich., Wunnava has worked for Ford since 2000 and now leads strategy, execution and operations for all the IT systems and technologies for core functions including automotive design, engineering and manufacturing. But even today, she said, she’ll get asked what country she’s based out of. And when she walks into a room with a white male colleague, others in that room will often direct questions to that colleague, assuming he has a higher rank than her.
“These are all little reminders that someone is making assumptions about me just by looking at me,” she told Automotive News.
That’s why, in addition to her myriad responsibilities, Wunnava has made diversity, equity and inclusion a key focus in Ford’s IT departments and throughout the company. She’s taken lead roles in a number of intracompany organizations, including joining the board of the Women of Ford employee resource group, and co-leading an initiative to help men become better allies and advocates for women. She also serves as executive champion of Ford’s IT culture transformation, helping shape how the company plans to work differently to be inclusive.
“I feel a sense of responsibility for those who will walk this path after me to create a better journey for them so they don’t have to fight the same fight,” she said.
Wunnava, named one of Automotive News’ 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry in 2020, said she has seen progress within Ford, especially since the pandemic forced organizations to better focus on employee well-being, but that much work remains.
What does success look like?
“When every individual can bring their authentic self to work without having to feel that burden of needing to prove themselves more than anyone else,” she said.
She added that DE&I initiatives can only be successful if people throughout the company prioritize them.
“Being a champion isn’t a formal role or title,” she said. “Anybody can be a champion. What it is, is your passion to make a difference.”
— Michael Martinez