Senior Vice-President and General Manager, Canadian Black Book
Hosting many of the leading voices in Canadian automotive at this year’s TalkAuto conference in Toronto in mid-November, Yolanda Biswah could not help but feel emotional about the change seven years has made. The senior vice-president and general manager of Canadian Black Book (CBB) vividly recalls being the only Black person in the room at her inaugural TalkAuto conference after joining the automotive data and valuation company in 2015.
“I think we’ve come a long way,” Biswah said, reflecting on the far more diverse audience and set of panelists at the 2022 event she played a key role in organizing.
Biswah, who oversees all operations and sales at CBB, is a strong advocate for increased Black and female representation within the Canadian automotive industry.
“That’s a big part of getting people to apply to your [job] postings and also changing diversity in your organization,” she said. “You have to have representation. When I came up, there was no representation, there was just me.”
Under Biswah’s leadership, CBB has become one of the most diverse organizations within Canadian automotive, with roughly 60 per cent of staff being from traditionally under-represented groups. For this, Biswah points to the impact the presence of a Black leader has on applicants, as well as her willingness to pursue hires through non-traditional avenues.
“When I look to hire, or we look to bring people onto our team, I don’t necessarily look for diverse people. I look for people who are best for the job, but I know how to go into other venues to get to other applicants, such as community programs ... where most traditional businesses don’t go.”
Throughout the recruitment process, CBB also avoids certain queries that can discourage some job seekers, Biswah said, such as questions about what neighbourhoods job seekers live in and their credit history.
“We’re changing small things as we learn, to make the process more inclusive for everyone.”
In addition to her day job, Biswah is also involved in Hearst Level Up Ventures at CBB parent firm Hearst Communications Inc. She supports Black and Latino entrepreneurs launching new businesses, specifically in the automotive industry where representation is lacking.
She also volunteers her time to take part in Accelerate Auto’s internship committee, helping to forge partnerships with universities to bring students from traditionally under-represented communities into automotive. This process, she said, has proved less labourious than expected, with schools typically jumping at the opportunity.
“Every school and organization that we’ve called across Ontario has responded promptly and immediately, saying ‘absolutely.’ It just shows you that there is an absolute attitude for change.”
Canadian automotive has made progress on diversifying its workforce over the past several years, Biswah said, but dealerships, automakers and other industry actors cannot let up.
“This conversation needs to be continuous. It cannot be based on your stats, or percentages of where you need to be. This needs to be an intentional conversation that carries forward.”