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Vitesco Technologies team celebrates CADIA’s Creating Inclusive Culture Award in November 2023.

Diverse Talent in Automotive Is There for the Taking

STEM degree attainment is increasing among women and minorities. Why is the auto industry still struggling to hire diverse candidates?

My first position in the automotive industry was as a food service worker. I transitioned to manufacturing as a tool and die maker while receiving a degree in manufacturing and eventually worked in powertrain engineering, tooling and gauging before retiring as a Global Director of Prototype.

Throughout my more than 30-year career in the industry, I was struck by how diverse talent was frequently overlooked, underdeveloped and undervalued. Companies seemed to have a very narrow focus for talent, and because of that were missing out on valuable ideas, perspective and experience.

For many years, the lack of qualified and trained diverse candidates was often given as the main reason the auto industry was predominantly white and male.

However, a recent industry study performed by CADIA, KPMG and MICHauto reveals that this belief no longer holds true.

The results of Driving Diversity: Unlocking the Power of Diverse Workforces for the Future of the Transportation Industry show that educational outcomes across diverse groups have improved substantially over the past 20 years.

For the 2002-2003 academic year, racially/ethnically diverse graduates were awarded 37% of the total STEM degrees conferred. That share increased to 51% in the 2020-2021 academic year. The percentage of women receiving STEM degrees also increased in that same period.

Additionally, the study showed racially and ethnically diverse candidates applied to 57% of available and open roles in the auto industry, a percentage that outpaces their representation of the workforce.

These results lead us to a new question: If diverse candidates are receiving more STEM degrees and applying for open positions, then why is the auto industry still struggling to hire diverse candidates?

There are several possible explanations, all of which fall squarely on the shoulders of the industry itself.

Leadership Representation

Despite recent initiatives that focus on diversifying leadership, representation at the highest levels of the auto industry still lags the rest of auto industry workforce as well as the overall U.S. workforce.

The Driving Diversity study found racially and ethnically diverse employees hold 22% of executive, senior leadership and manager roles despite representing 33% of the industry workforce. In fact, the executive/senior level has the lowest proportion of racially/ethnically diverse talent out of all the job categories examined in the study.

Representation at leadership levels is indicative of a larger issue facing the industry, one that concentrates women and racially/ethnically diverse employees in specific job categories and functions. For example, the administrative support category has the highest representation of women (54%), a number that is 25% higher than the next category. Not surprisingly, the administrative support category is dominated by roles stereotypically seen as being “for women,” such as receptionists, executive assistants, customer service representatives and clerks.

A similar pattern is seen among racially and ethnically diverse employees, with the highest concentrations being in two categories: laborers and helpers (48%) and operatives (42%). Both categories predominantly include hourly roles such as production workers, cleaners and maintenance staff, machine setters and operators, and freight movers.

This type of concentration limits opportunities for advancement, particularly when combined with limited mentorship, allyship and talent development activities. It is still exceedingly difficult to transition across industry functions, such as from a position on the shop floor to one in a corporate department.

The results of the Driving Diversity support the anecdotal and experiential observations from many industry employees across decades. Although we have access to an increasingly diverse talent pool, the industry is not doing enough to attract – and retain – these individuals.

To keep our industry competitive, organizations of all sizes must do more to bridge the gap between applicants and new hires. This is particularly important as the workforce gets younger. Gen Z places a high priority on diverse work environments, with 83% of candidates saying a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer.

As an industry, we must establish clear pathways for hiring and advancement that are accessible to all individuals. This means removing barriers and bias from the entire talent lifecycle, developing reskilling and succession planning programs, and driving dialogue with existing employees to create a culture of continuous improvement.

Thompson-Cheryl-scaled-e1692902724445.jpgMost importantly, everyone must understand that we all play a role in creating a work environment that is accepting and safe for all employees who enter it. This is especially critical in today’s environment, where DEI is under the microscope. We know, however, that most companies remain committed to DEI as a business imperative. Working together, we can create a more inclusive, equitable and diverse automotive industry.

Cheryl Thompson (pictured, left) is founder and CEO of the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement (CADIA).

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