Focus on diversity, equity, inclusion ‘makes good business sense,’ the panel says

Creating inclusive workspaces in the automotive manufacturing, distribution and retail sectors is not just a feel-good undertaking, it’s an essential part of doing business, according to panelists at an Automotive News Canada online forum said.

“Inclusion is not just the right thing to do. It makes good business sense,” said Al Ramsay, vice-president and head of the 2SLGBTQ+ and Black customer segments at TD Bank Group. “Inclusion, we think is a competitive advantage.”

Ramsay was one of three panelists to speak at the joint Automotive News Canada/Accelerate Auto web forum held June 27. Ramsay was joined by Brent Smith, deputy general manager, national corporate fleet sales, residual management and certified pre-owned at Nissan Canada and Laura Panther, chairperson of Unifor 707 Pride Committee and an employee at Ford Motor Co. of Canada’s Oakville assembly plant.

Smith said he relies on dealers across the country and corporate fleet customers for advice on advancing the company’s one-team culture, which emphasizes inclusiveness.

“Nissan’s done a lot of work on making sure they’re building a workplace where everyone has a voice,” Smith said. In one recent initiative, called inclusive conversation training, leaders are taught how to have inclusive conversations with their teams.

‘RELATE TO EACH OTHER AS HUMANS’

“And, you know, I shared my journey in those conversations and some of the things that I’ve experienced in my career. And it allowed other people to open up,” he said. “I just allowed us all to relate to each other as humans.”

Panther said her union has supported developing more inclusive conditions on the shop floor.

“When I started at Ford [23 years ago], I was scared to tell anybody that I was LGBTQ. But after speaking with a co-worker, “I learned that I had protection and that I was safe to be my true self.”

Ford of Canada has also embraced workplace diversity, she said: “You know, it’s been a wonderful experience.”

Ramsay noted that when women and non-whites are counted, approximately 40 per cent of the community identify as non-binary.

Panelists spoke of the difficulty of “coming out” 15 to 20 years ago, at a time when awareness of LGBTQ issues was just emerging.

Panther said when he came out and separated from his then-husband, “Everybody had spread rumors and we had no friends left.” As recently as 15 years ago, workers who came out faced “hatred and animosity,” she said, but within the past five years two members have come out at Oakville and faced no backlash.

‘MORE LOVING AND OPEN’

“They’ve been embraced,” she said. “This change and the acceptance is more loving and open. I think people have been educated enough that they ought to know right from wrong now.”

Ramsay, who joined TD Bank in 2005, was the first full-time diversity and employee inclusion. After a “terrible” experience at a previous institution, “I chose to walk into the bank as an open, proud black gay man.” He said his career flourished in TD Banks’ welcoming environment.

Ramsay encouraged LGBTQ members to be outspoken about their rights. The “power of storytelling – that’s how we change hearts and minds.”

Panther agreed, advising workers to have conversations with hostile co-workers rather than just shutting them down. “I don’t believe in blocking anybody unless, of course, they’re getting really vile,” Panther said. “But the only way to educate and open somebody’s mind is to have a discussion.”

Ramsay noted the effort to educate employees and customers requires ongoing violence. Despite TD’s success, “We still have a ton of work to do within the bank and externally,” he said.

“There is pushback all the time,” Ramsay said. “You’re going to have to constantly educate folks. There’s new people coming to the bank. And as much as inclusive we are, we have to be intentional and relentless on training and education.”

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