It offers to automotive professionals weekly CADIA Connects conversations; diversity, equity and inclusion workshops; a professional-development academy; and a DE&I assessment and road map.
Thompson, 55, discussed CADIA's origin and purpose with Chief Content Officer Jamie Butters and News Editor Omari Gardner. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: How did you get your start in the industry?
A: My first job was washing dishes in the basement of Ford's world headquarters. I had my son when I was 18. I had plans to go to college and was waitressing at the time. My dad was an engineer at Ford, and he convinced me to apply. They hired me on the spot.
They were looking to recruit women and minorities into the skilled trades, and I raised my hand because it was going to be five times the amount of money I was making. They put me into tool and die. After I graduated, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who took me aside and said a lot of die makers have gone into engineering.
So I went into engineering, and my time has been in manufacturing engineering and operations through vehicle and powertrain.
How did CADIA get started?
My last position at Ford was powertrain prototype manager.
I had a team of about 500 across three different sites.
So I retired with this whole idea of helping women in the industrial sector. I got recruited to go work at American Axle & Manufacturing — they were looking for someone to run their prototype organization.
I became their prototype director, globally, and really got to learn the Tier 1 side of the business, which I had no exposure to previously.
So that was invaluable. And at the time I started there, which was in 2018, is when I formed CADIA.
I was trying to figure out what to call the organization, and came up with that acronym, "CADIA." When I Googled it, I found out it was an underground coal mine in Australia. And I thought, like, you know, the skies opened up, the angels were singing, because I truly think there's a gold mine for talent, and for companies, in terms of unearthing all of that talent.
What are some of CADIA's priorities?
When [Executive Director Margaret Baxter] came on board, at that time I was really focused on helping individuals on what are the right assignments to position yourself for advancement. How do you find a mentor? How do you set boundaries and priorities? I was really focused on individuals, and I was quickly noticing that we can't just focus on individuals — we need to think about systemic change.
We need to get to the leaders who have the power and the influence. And so when Margaret came in, she had this idea to start a diversity and inclusion roundtable.
So before the pandemic happened, we had two in-person meetings where we brought in companies to share best practices. So, that has really been one of our pillars in terms of bringing people together, letting them ask questions.
What is CADIA Connects?
When the pandemic happened, many companies that had employee resource groups were able to bring people together. People who work for companies that didn't have employee resource groups, we thought they were isolated. So we started holding conversations every Tuesday called CADIA Connects.
After George Floyd was murdered, through some of the feedback we got from our CADIA Connects participants, we found out that some companies did not make statements, didn't acknowledge anything happened. We've had three weeks where we didn't record any conversations, and we just set up some conversations about race and privilege, and how do we move forward and how do we make sure that everybody feels supported and that there's safe spaces created.
So that allowed us to get the voice of the employee, and also pull CEOs into the conversation.
What are some of the biggest DE&I challenges in the industry right now?
I would say the hesitancy of white males to feel like they're part of this journey. I feel like a large portion of them feel like they have something to lose.
I've been around a long time, and I remember quotas. And I think a lot of people in leadership right now remember that as well. And so, they think about quotas with that, you know, zero-sum game mindset: If somebody else is winning, I'm going to lose. They don't necessarily see what's in it for them.
When talking about diverse groups, there are some of the obvious ones — by race, gender, sexuality — but what are some others that might be overlooked?
People with disabilities, veterans. Also look at industry diversity, or people coming in with military experience. Hiring people who have transferable skills and experience, that's a dimension of diversity.