Most automakers, major automotive retailers and other members of corporate America have been unusually — and refreshingly — vocal and united in speaking out about racial injustice and police brutality after the world witnessed the horrifying death of George Floyd.
The underlying problems leading to widespread civil unrest certainly weren't created by the automotive industry. But as one of the nation's most influential industries — and one that has employed large numbers of African-Americans and other minorities — it can be part of the solution.
Just as Walter Reuther and the UAW played a foundational role in the civil rights movement, so too must today's industry make its actions speak louder than its words.
Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley acknowledges the industry's duty: "As employees of one of the largest companies in the world, we absolutely have the individual and collective power to make a difference."
Words are encouraging, but they can be fleeting. Statements of support from the nation's C-suites, uncoupled from action, are a poor balm for America's wounds.
Ideas are already plentiful, and some are underway, but a much broader and sustained effort is needed.
- Borrow from GM CEO Mary Barra's "Speak up for Safety" campaign following the ignition switch crisis. Allow workers to safely report overt or suspected discriminatory activity.
- Don't allow "diversity," "inclusion" and "sensitivity training" to become meaningless HR buzzwords. Top leadership must make the company's values clear and enforce corrective action when they are violated.
- Don't resort to rote tokenism and quotas, but be sure that you're hiring and promoting from a pool of qualified people from a wide array of backgrounds. And vigorously guard against inequities in compensation among similarly accomplished workers.
- Show the public how you are addressing inequality, whether it's internally or with community organizations.
The industry's social responsibility doesn't end with its products, it starts with them. The automobile and the men and women who make, sell and service them have changed this nation's history for the better many times. Now in this extraordinary moment, they are called on once again to lead by example to a more just future for all.