COVID-19 strengthens automotive's commitment to diversity and inclusion, but the industry has a long way to go
According to the third edition of Making Diversity and Inclusion a Business Reality, published today, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is climbing the agenda for the majority of businesses, but there remains a long way to go to make it a reality in UK automotive. The paper, produced in partnership by Auto Trader and executive search specialists, Ennis & Co., tracks the D&I behaviours and commitments of many of the UK’s leading automotive retailers and manufacturers.
Featuring brand new research, it reveals that the perceived value of D&I amongst automotive businesses is accelerating. 80% of the 40 organisations surveyed from across the automotive industry (representing retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and trade bodies) in April 2021, stated it was ‘very important’ to their objectives. This marks an increase on the 78% recorded in 2019, and the 75% in 2018.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the perception amongst the industry is that progress has been made over the last 12 months: 50% thought their business had made either ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ progress, which is up considerably on the 28% recorded in 2019. In fact, for the majority, the coronavirus has strengthened their commitment to D&I, with 85% stating it had pushed it further up the agenda at a senior level.
Whilst the research did highlight some positive outtakes from the pandemic, such as businesses being forced to change or reassess outdated policies, not least on the ways of working, they were far outnumbered by the negative effects the pandemic had on D&I and the broader HR function. As one would expect, the wellbeing of colleagues was identified as the area most negatively affected by COVID, with a third of businesses (33%) choosing it as the primary area impacted. It was followed by employee training (30%), and colleague engagement (30%).
What’s more, as a result of the pandemic, many key initiatives have been placed on hold, including employee networks (20%), active recruitment of diverse colleagues (15%), employee training and education (15%), and leadership training on managing a diverse workforce (13%).
According to this year’s study, most organisations have a strong focus on creating an inclusive environment for all employees. However, women / gender is by far the most prevalent diversity strand in the automotive industry, with many groups remaining underserved. When asked to rank which strands of D&I had the strongest focus within their business, 79% identified women / gender as their primary focus, dropping significantly to other priority areas: race / ethnicity (11%), neurodiversity (5%) LGBT+ (3%) and age (3%).
Lynda Ennis, founder of Ennis & Co., commented: “Far from being blown off course by the impact of the past 18 months, D&I has clearly never been so important in the minds of business leaders, and this is heartening to see. What I would like to see more of, however, as we continue the D&I journey is a genuine commitment to initiatives centred around the improvement in inclusivity. I still feel we still have a way to go in terms of ensuring D&I is not just focused on one vertical, such as gender, and true inclusivity is about removing “labels”. If you compromise as a company to fulfil quotas – you will never reach your full talent potential and ultimately, if you do not focus on inclusivity – you will never get the best people.”
Interestingly, 34 out of the 40 organisations surveyed reported they had flexible working policies. However, whilst it’s possible that 85% do indeed offer it, potentially some businesses have confused colleagues working from home with flexible working and as a result assume all colleagues are experiencing the associated benefits. Research from McKinsey has shown that despite efforts from employers, employees – especially diverse employees and working parents - are still struggling with the multitude of challenges posed by the pandemic.
The Auto Trader and Ennis & Co. research also highlighted a notably low adoption of some key D&I initiatives: just 60% monitor and report on the diversity make up of their colleagues, and only 50% actively recruit diverse employees (though outreach programmes, internships or scholarships etc.). What’s more, barely half (52%) have a D&I leader or sponsor at C-suite level, and nearly two thirds (61%) don’t have an articulated D&I commitment or plan.
Commenting on the findings, Auto Trader’s group sales director, Rebecca Clark, said: “The role of D&I and the broader HR function has been critical in supporting businesses as they successfully navigate the challenges of the pandemic, and I’m pleased that the commitment to D&I remains strong. However, as the research highlights, there is still a long way to go to make it a reality in UK automotive; representation remains limited, with minority groups potentially underserved, whilst many core D&I initiatives are either on hold or are non-existent. As an industry, we need to galvanise the positive sentiment evident in this report, and push this towards commitment to action, rather than just words.”
The report includes commentary and best practice advice from a range of industry senior executives, including Daksh Gupta (CEO, Marshall Motor Group), Andrew Humberstone (Vice President and Managing Director, Nissan Motors GB), Alex Smith (Managing Director, Volkswagen Group UK), Mandeep Dhatt (Executive Director of HR, McLaren Automotive), Dr Astrid Fontaine (Member of the Board of People, Digitisation and IT, at Bentley Motors), Alison Fisher (Chief People Officer, Cox Automotive International); and Penny Weatherup (HR Director, Volkswagen Group UK), who joined circa 100 HR directors, MDs and CEOs for a half-day digital seminar in May, hosted by Auto Trader and Ennis & Co.
To download a free copy of the report, please visit: https://plc.autotrader.co.uk/media/2312/making-diversity-and-inclusion-a-business-reality-2021-ennis-co-auto-trader.pdf
 McKinsey & Company, November 2020: Diverse employees are struggling the most during COVID-19