Driving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Canadian automotive industry 

September 19, 2023

The Canadian automotive industry thrives on the power of people and real conversations, even when it means looking at the challenges that need to be faced head on. 

Shannon Spano, Automotive Industries Association of Canada’s (AIA Canada) Board of Directors Chair, has experience leading change and provided valuable insights into opportunities to have greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our industry—and how being more inclusive will lead better recruitment and retention. 

Building a culture of inclusivity 

Spano, who is also Vice President, Sales at Castrol – Wakefield, has actively championed initiatives that foster high-performing cultures with psychological safety, both within her career and the industry at large. She says that it has always been important to her to be a part of an organization that has an inclusive culture.  

Working in a field dominated by men, Spano said she found her own challenges fitting in. 

“Early in my career, some of my coaching was focused around how to “fit in” and adapt to achieve results.  I spent a lot of time being laser focused on adjusting and second guessing my natural instincts or abilities.  I realized as I matured and gained exposure in the industry, how important it was to find my authentic voice, play to my strengths, ask bolder questions and challenge the status quo.  It opened up opportunities and a deeper growth mindset to listen to different perspectives, while leading more authentically and without a need to conform.”   

“For me, the conversations I have are much more deliberately focused around developing and celebrating individual strengths, an openness to diverse perspectives, encouraging people to find your passion and purpose, and in doing so, I became a more authentic leader and achieved a greater sense of belonging. And the deeper sense of belonging I felt, the more my results improved, and I felt a greater sense of confidence overall.”  

Strengthening the sector through DEI 

Equitable access to career opportunities and training opportunities are key to attracting and retaining top talent, Spano says.  

“This is an area we need to see as a key priority,” Spano says. 

In addition, Spano believes that with greater prioritization on promoting inclusion, providing equitable opportunities and valuing the strengths of employees will have sustainable impact to the viability of our industry.   

But she adds that while the work is not done, the industry has come a long way from where it was. 

“You can see what companies are doing right now, celebrating and developing their employee base, recognizing the strengths of diversity to leadership and organizational performance, and really creating a sense of belonging, whether that be recruitment and retention strategies or training and development initiatives,” Spano says. 

“I see women in the industry in a much bolder way than before,” She adds. “I see more of us, especially in leadership positions, which is wonderful, creating a network and community around women in the industry.” 

She points to significant progress made by industry members in promoting DEI, including increased visibility of women in the industry, and the growth of events and networks supporting women. In addition, some in the industry have tried to address the unique challenges faced by those who are new to Canada.  

Inclusivity means listening to these challenges. 

“I love that two-way dialogue about needs, opportunities, pain points, and just making sure that we’ve got a collective conversation that’s actively ongoing and always accessible” Spano says. 

Overcoming challenges and leading change 

She stressed the importance of understanding and reframing DEI as a quest for fairness and inclusivity, rather than a risk or disruption to our members’ important work to keep Canadians on the road.  

“I think it starts with an openness to listening. One of the things I’m trying to explore myself is focusing on understanding someone else’s opinion or perspective so when we lead DEI discussions it does not come across as a threat or risk to any stakeholder.” Spano says. 

“I believe people’s hearts are in the right place. I always believe that. And this is just really about educating people about where society is going and how you can have more progressive language, productive discussions, inclusive policies and engaged cultures to support a more diverse and inclusive, high performing environment.” 

The role of education and government 

Being more inclusive starts early, and Shannon emphasized the need for enhanced DEI programs at the educational level, being more inviting to those who might not have felt welcome in the sector before. 

“I think there is more work we can do in colleges and universities and even at the high school level,” she says.  

Institutions and government bodies can play a crucial role in creating awareness, providing training, and ensuring equitable access to opportunities and enhancing perceptions of the vibrant and prospering auto care sector.  

DEI initiatives at AIA Canada 

At AIA Canada, the board’s DEI committee is working on initiatives to open eyes about diversity, making sure the organization is culturally sensitive, and its recruitment strategies and work environment make the organization a great place to work. 

Providing training and development opportunities and integrating DEI ambassadors into the business models are ways this committee has found to slowly move the needle within the organization.  

AIA Canada is working to establish a mentorship program that will provide guidance and support for aspiring leaders. It will also showcase diversity within the industry, both in terms of our board representation and the perspectives of technicians and laborers. 

Spano says the AIA Canada board is looking to the organization’s Young Professionals in the Aftermarket community (YPA) as a pulse of where the industry is going. “They have a high representation of both women and diverse backgrounds,” Spano explains. 

AIA Canada is working to set critical milestones and establish a long-term agenda for DEI initiatives for the organization. We will be working with our members to hear their thoughts and the concerns of their employees and promote DEI principles in our forums and events.  

Building a more vibrant, resilient sector 

Fostering inclusivity, celebrating diversity, and promoting equitable opportunities is essential for building a stronger and more vibrant sector.  

By embracing DEI principles, engaging in open conversations, and challenging traditional thinking, Spano believes we will build a thriving industry. 


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