President, Nissan Canada Inc.
Since taking over as president of Nissan Canada Inc. (NCI) in 2019, Steve Milette has used the posting to “elevate” both his own and the company’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“At the time, we had one female director on the executive committee at NCI and our leadership pipeline was not as robust as it should be in terms of diversity,” he said.
Milette said he had always focused some of his time on the diversity file, but high-profile events such as the murder of George Floyd in the United States and the death of Joyce Echaquan in Canada, both in 2020, resonated with him, and reinforced that “it was time for change.”
Over the past three years at the helm, Milette has challenged the team at NCI to take numerous strides to increase the diversity of its workforce, ensure voices of all staff are heard, and build closer ties with the diverse customer communities it serves.
The early efforts, Milette said, started with opening the lines of communication with staff.
“We are fostering and encouraging open dialogue with our teams to open up and share our vulnerabilities and to find solutions that would make this a better place to work,” he said, noting he believes the hard work has created an environment where everyone is heard.
And staff voices are translating directly into tangible changes at the company.
NCI hosts a range of business synergy teams, such as Women, Generations and Gay-Straight Alliance Nissan, which see interested staff come together for educational events, networking and celebrations. Several corporate recommendations have come out of these groups, Milette said, including one for a “green room” at the NCI office where staff can go to decompress if stress levels get too high. The company is currently in the process of setting up such a space, he added.
When it comes to boosting diversity through recruitment, the company continues to hire the best candidate for the job, Milette said, but its process to identify these candidates has evolved.
“What has changed is the approach to ensure we attract candidates that would not normally consider our industry or our company and to standardize the hiring process to ensure we remove any biases.”
Among other steps, the company’s human resources team has created diverse interviewer committees and begun using standardized interview questionnaires to remove biases from the hiring process.
Following the advice of an external consultation in 2021, Milette also pushed for the creation of a new role focused entirely on the diversity file to “guide us through all aspects of the business, placing a DEI lens on everything we do.”
“Although [the position is] in its infancy, our senior manager of DEI recently led the organization through a series of rich inclusive conversations with our team members. People want to be heard, but they want to ensure they can share their concerns and ideas in a safe environment.”
Milette expects to see a far different Canadian auto sector emerge as changes at NCI and other companies take root.
“The next 25 years will look nothing like the last 25 years and we will undoubtedly attract a diverse workforce to tackle the new paradigms of our industry.”