TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Ford Motor Co.'s approach to diversity, equity and inclusion involved a simple but abnormal command for its top leaders, including former CEO Jim Hackett and current CEO Jim Farley: Stop talking.
No speeches about company goals. No promises to make things better.
Just sit and listen.
Last year, even before the death of George Floyd sparked a national reckoning about race and police brutality, the company began bringing in groups of minority employees for hourlong listening sessions to share their experiences with the automaker's top leaders. Those executives were allowed to ask clarifying questions but were otherwise instructed not to respond or offer potential solutions to problems; the time belonged to the employees.
"Some of the comments we got back was that it was the most impactful hour of their entire career," Lori Costew, Ford's chief diversity officer and director of people strategy, said during a DE&I panel at the Management Briefing Seminars here. "It led to listening in deeper ways."
Costew, as well as representatives from Toyota, Magna and Continental, said listening was a key requirement to better understand the different life experiences of a company's work force. They also stressed the need to go beyond typical platitudes and commit to change.
"We can wish for a lot of things, but at some point you have to put a budget behind it to make sure there's some action behind it," said Robert Lee, president of Continental North America. "You have to set real, challenging targets for the organization to make sure it's moving in the right direction."
In addition to connecting with their top executives and convincing them to act, the companies agreed that they also needed tailored messaging for blue-collar employees who may not be able to attend meetings or other training programs.
"The challenge is to be inclusive with the whole work force," said Stephen Lewis, general manager of diversity and inclusion at Toyota. "The communication has to be different."