For the fifth time since 2000, Automotive News is highlighting 100 women who lead the automotive industry. The impressive list published in this issue reminds us again that diversity is not a mission for women and minorities but for the entire industry.
Women continue to advance — and lead — in the auto industry; nearly a third of this year's honorees are presidents or CEOs of their companies. But only about the same percentage of the honorees said that their potential successor was also a woman. While that percentage is too low, this one is disturbingly, maddeningly high: Half of them said they have experienced gender discrimination in the auto industry.
The appointment of Mary Barra as CEO of General Motors in 2014 helped the industry grasp the notion of a female trailblazer. But just as Barack Obama's presidency didn't end racism against Blacks in America, Barra's successful reign can't change work life for all women in the auto industry.
Companies and organizations continue to take steps toward diversity, but they remain too small. The National Automobile Dealers Association will broaden its leadership by adding female and minority dealers to its board — which may still comprise more than 90 percent white men.
Retiring NADA CEO Peter Welch called the move part of an "awakening," but mathematically, it's more like a snooze button — a first jolt from a long slumber, with much more work to be done by members.
Gender and racial diversity is not a lofty political goal to make people feel good; it is a sound, profitable business practice. A work force and leadership that reflect one's customers is the best way to connect with them and keep them coming back.
Diversity in the auto industry must be more than stories of women helping women or minority mentorship programs. Extraordinary efforts are needed to boost the numbers of female and minority dealers, as well as to improve diversity at all levels of dealership, supplier and automaker companies.
After social justice tensions boiled over this year, many companies said they were committed to improving diversity and inclusion in the auto industry. Such healing efforts must include policies around hiring, training and promotion.
Token changes won't deliver diversity to this industry — it must become a standard business practice.