The Elephant in the Room is Here to Help

by Adam Rapp

Let’s put the pandemic aside for a moment and spotlight another issue of significant importance, racism. In all facets of life, racism has largely been permitted to prevail, causing centuries of heartbreaking injustice. Looking at the response to recent acts of bias, it is fair to say that society is reaching a breaking point. In order to make genuine progress, change must be implemented as a whole. As a dealer, now is the time to innovate genuine parity into all aspects of your business.

If we’re honest with ourselves, diversity has not always been a strong suit for the auto industry. Currently, out of roughly 19,000 dealerships, only 1,200 (six percent) are ethnic-minority owned. On top of that, ethnic-minority consumers only have thirty percent buying power. There is something terribly wrong with these numbers. Considering how large the auto industry is and the number of consumers it delivers to, there should be equal opportunity for everyone. However, this is not the case, which means there is tremendous progress that needs to be made. Helping to put an end to inequality in the auto industry is NAMAD (The National Association of Minority Auto Dealers). A 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C., NAMAD is putting efforts forth to ensure that the auto industry has more diversity and achieves. Place within the collective industry’s “circle of trust”. NAMAD President Damon Lester recently discussed the organization’s main motives and strategies on the Dealer News Today podcast. “We’re trying to level off the playing field with the goal of achieving parity”, says Lester.

According to Lester, NAMAD’s work reaches all aspects of the industry, although he is of the mind that sustainable change comes from the executive level. This is the reason Lester is focusing his attention on helping auto manufacturers to develop initiatives that address issues of inequality. Most importantly, these initiatives must come from within the leadership team, according to Lester, and all involved need to fully understand that these innovations are not a one-time fix. Inequality in the workplace will not be solved overnight, let alone in the country. Leaders must frequently evaluate their initiatives and continue to develop new strategies that ensure progress is never compromised within the workplace, and the time to incorporate diversity into your leadership is now. According to Lester, leadership roles most often go to a very finite group of individuals. Lack of diversity in your leadership team only exacerbates the problems of injustice and imbalance. “If you don’t have a person of color around your table, you have an issue”, says Lester. In order to best curb the issue, Lester believes that the auto industry needs to do a better job at reaching out to more communities. Individuals with an ethnic minority background must also be treated fairly in the hiring process. Most importantly, salaries must achieve parity with the rest of the industry and upward mobility in the company provided on an equal path for every employee.

While diversity is critical in your leadership team, ruling out any bad eggs in your workplace is also a necessity. Your employees must be willing to innovate along with the company and create an inclusive environment. If any refuse, even just one, then the entire circle of trust and your initiatives are in jeopardy. Take Ford for example. According to USA Today, in 2017, the company faced allegations of sexual and racial harassment at two of their manufacturing plants in Chicago. When Ford investigated these incidents, they also found complaints of racial discrimination in their dealerships and service departments. This behavior was unacceptable in Ford’s eyes. In response, the company paid the affected workers a settlement and also penalized the perpetrating employees. Ford also implemented regular workshops to address these issues. More recently, Ford has also introduced new anti-bullying and discrimination policies which are updated on a consistent basis.

While Ford’s efforts to end injustice in all aspects of their company is a great start, the auto industry as a whole still has a long way to go. As Lester puts it, the industry has been around for roughly one hundred years. With NAMAD only being established forty years ago, the auto industry has a sixty year “head start” in terms of business practices that exacerbate inequality. In order to truly overcome the obstacles, opportunities must be accessible for all, with a genuine ability to prosper. Bottom line, in order to progress both morally and economically, your dealership must give every individual a fair chance at achieving parity.