Diversity: An integral component in the automotive industry
In today’s dynamic and ever-evolving business landscape, the call for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) becomes louder and more important.
One powerful voice leading this call in the automotive industry is Micheline Davies. As an executive at Canadian Tire, and a member of AIA Canada’s Board of Directors, she sees DEI as a necessary consideration for everyone in the industry, whether a small neighbourhood garage or a national chain.
“Diverse teams and diverse leadership lead to improved business results,” she says, citing findings from Forbes, McKinsey, and Catalyst. Davies elaborates on the importance of such leadership, especially in a consumer-driven company like Canadian Tire.
“Understanding and mirroring the diversity of our customer base is critical. Our primary mission at Canadian Tire is to truly know our customers and deliver on their most important needs,” she says. “Achieving this becomes challenging if our leadership and decision-makers don’t reflect our customer base.”
Working the past three decades in male-dominated fields, Davies has first-hand experience of the isolating feeling of being the sole or one of the underrepresented voices in a room.
“I’ve worked in other industries with less diverse leadership, not just automotive. I’ve worked in real estate and construction, and in hard goods where I have had experiences of feeling marginalized or excluded or on the receiving end of sexism. Sometimes it’s direct, sometimes less so. And when I reflect on it, I don’t want our leaders in the future to face those same obstacles.”
“I know that I have a role to help shape the culture of the workforce and the diversity of the team. And I take that role seriously.”
Davies says DEI can bring opportunities for the sector, especially given the challenges the auto care sector and other industries face, including the current talent crunch. The battle for talent, which has been exacerbated by the retirement of baby boomers, and the long-term impacts of the COVID pandemic, has left the industry struggling to maintain staffing levels.
“Imagine the potential we can unlock by designing programs that funnel a stream of diverse talent into our workforces. These programs can be our answer, not just to staffing woes but also to infuse fresh viewpoints and catalyze innovation in the industry.”
Davies shares some of the initiatives Canadian Tire has undertaken. “At Canadian Tire, we live by a set of core values. One that we hold everyone accountable to is ‘inclusion is a must’.”
She adds that as one of Canada’s top 100 diverse workplaces, Canadian Tire is actively cultivating diversity. As well as embedding it into its core values, the company has established a dedicated DEI team, and has instituted several employee resource groups (ERGs). One ERG that is close to Davies’ heart is the Women’s Leadership Network, which she personally sponsors.
Davies also elaborates on Canadian Tire’s active role in diversifying its dealer base. Canadian Tire stores are locally owned and operated by a network of dealers who are the face of the business and the brand to their customers. Through special initiatives and engagement events, Canadian Tire reaches out to diverse potential dealer candidates, explaining the business model and creating pathways for a dealer base that continues to grow its level of diversity.
“We’ve been on a mission to diversify our Canadian Tire dealer group, and not only through typical recruitment approaches. We have hosted career nights where, through LinkedIn, we have targeted diverse candidates and encouraged them to join us to learn more about the Canadian Tire business, how to become a dealer, and how to unpack the financial model. We’ve also held a series of get-togethers targeted at women candidates and hope to do more across other groups.”
For smaller businesses that may feel overwhelmed with the idea of DEI, given the limited resources at their disposal compared to giants like Canadian Tire, Davies offers this advice:
“Start by truly getting to know your team. They’re a group of individuals so take the time to understand their unique values, needs, and aspirations, and stand by them,” she suggests. “It’s okay to be uncertain. Don’t fear making mistakes. Seek expertise when needed and prioritize educating yourself, especially about unconscious biases.”
She also had advice for business owners who may be apprehensive about starting a DEI program out of fear of ‘getting it wrong.’
“It can be daunting to discuss the topic of diversity. It can a bit of a minefield to step into, let alone take action. The good news is there are many first steps you can take. Consider reaching out to experts. Reach out to those in your network who are further along in the journey and learn from them. Be on the lookout for articles, books, podcasts and even scan LinkedIn. Understand which companies are doing it well. Reach out. Create connections. Don’t go it on your own, draft off others to learn from what they have done and how they took their first steps.”
Davies also raises the transformative power of conscious decisions. “The moment you start inclusive hiring with intent, you’ll notice a shift. Your workforce will naturally evolve, which will attract more diverse talent.”
Davies believes that embracing diversity and inclusion is not just a moral decision; it is a necessity for innovation, growth, and long-term success.
“I saw a stat that said women make up less than a quarter of service advisors in Ontario, which surprised me. Then I read that one per cent of auto technicians were female,” she adds.
“What if we could attract a pipeline of diverse talent, of women, of different ethnicities who could become auto technicians, just as one example. And then I found myself thinking about new Canadians and the opportunities they bring to apply their education and their skills. Why not point them at the auto care industry here in Canada? This has the potential to be a real accelerator for building better future talent for us.”
At the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, we believe that the engine driving our industry is fuelled by a blend of diverse ideas, perspectives, and experiences. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are fundamental pillars shaping the future of the auto care industry.
The attraction and retention of top talent lies in fostering a culture of inclusion and equitable opportunities, as it enables us to resonate with the ever-changing demands of our customers and evolving market dynamics. Like a well-tuned engine, our sector thrives on the diverse contributions of its parts—our valued workforce. By celebrating the rich tapestry of backgrounds and perspectives within our teams, we not only broaden our reach to a diverse customer base, but also foster a workplace environment that attracts and retains the best talent.
DEI is not simply an ethical stance, but a vital strategy in driving growth and industry leadership.
Davies sees a role for AIA Canada in this journey, given its historic role in supporting the auto care sector.
“AIA Canada can support DEI by building education, research, and training, and leading by example,” she says. Advocacy for diverse talent, breaking down barriers to accessibility, awareness, and outreach are critical steps AIA Canada can adopt.
“Given AIA Canada’s mandate and our strength in building education, I believe we have an opportunity to direct our expertise toward supporting DEI. What would it look like for AIA Canada to become the expert on the value of DEI to the industry? What would it look like if AIA Canada could help in attracting and retaining diverse talent? What if AIA Canada could teach its membership how to be better leaders of diverse teams? There is so much possibility for us to explore.”