“I think it started as more of an ‘it’s the right thing to do’ type of initiative. However, it has certainly morphed into a necessary thing to have,” said Peter Burke, president of Workforce Research Group, which conducted the survey for Automotive News Canada’s 2023 Best Dealerships To Work For.
“Many [businesses] now believe that diversity equals strength and advantage as opposed to a core value that just felt like the right thing to do.”
Organizations that hire staff whose core values align with those of their employers become better places to work for everyone, Burke said.
“These dealerships are getting much better at that.”
At Mercedes-Benz Winnipeg, the diversity, equity and inclusion strategy might have begun in late 2021, but the dealership by then had already taken strides to increase representation by women in upper-level positions.
“I came from outside the auto industry, and I was skeptical of what I had heard about it being a male-dominated business,” said Lucinda Helm, the dealership’s director of people and culture. “I was pleasantly surprised to see that at that time, there was a female fixed-operations manager, a female F&I training manager and a female collision-centre manager.”
In late 2021, the dealership was 79 per cent male and 21 per cent female. Thirtythree per cent of employees were visible minorities, while one per cent had accessibility needs. Balancing those numbers was key to doing business in a city comprising many ethnicities, Helm said.
The question the dealership poses, she said: “Could a customer walk into our dealership and see themselves reflected here?”
Today, representation by women remains at 21 per cent, but visible minorities now make up 37 per cent of staff. The goal over the next one to three years is to be 50 per cent women and 50 per cent visible minorities, “to more accurately reflect th demographics of our customers and of Winnipeg,” Helm said.
‘MALE UNDERTONE’ IN JOB POSTINGS
A key part of that effort is changing how the dealership advertises openings and creates its list of required skills. “The fact is we were hiring a lot of male candidates because that’s who was applying,” Helm said. “We made a deliberate effort to discuss transferable skills rather than just looking at past experience, and we revised some of our job postings that included a lot of words typically associated with a male undertone.”
Mercedes-Benz Winnipeg has also partnered with Direct Action in Support of Community Homes (DASCH), a Winnipeg organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities integrate into the workforce. As a result, the number of employees with accessibility needs has increased to three per cent.
Ensuring there are accommodations for staff with physical or intellectual difficulties is core to at least two dealerships that made the list of 2023 Best Dealerships To Work For: Volvo Cars Edmonton and Volkswagen Waterloo.
Adhering to the provincial Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act has allowed Volkswagen Waterloo to retain valued staff members suddenly confronting accessibility challenges brought about by knee or hip replacements and injuries. It also opened the door to a talented segment of the population that might otherwise have been overlooked. The dealership has also partnered with The Shop, a Cambridge, Ont., organization that helps young people facing a variety of difficulties — such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and physical and intellectual disabilities — access training and employment.
‘DIFFERENT’ IS ‘BETTER’
“For me, the big thing is when you have a good variety of backgrounds and diversity in your team, it allows everyone to grow and learn as well,” said David Krause, Volkswagen Waterloo’s general manager. “It enables you to be more successful, because we all have different backgrounds, different perceptions. You learn to be that much better.”
Accommodations at Volkswagen Waterloo in clued an elevator to the second story, power-assist and automated doors, and corridors wide enough for wheelchairs. “There’s no portion of the store a person with a disability couldn’t navigate to on their own,” Krause said.
“Now, someone who may have felt like retiring or needing to change their role, this takes that out of the equation. They’re not limited by an all-of-a-sudden incident in their lives.”
Volvo Cars Edmonton’s dealer principal, Michael Norris, said hiring Special Olympians — athletes with intellectual difficulties — “is the best thing we do.”
These employees have “amazing attitudes” and a stellar work ethic, Norris said. “For example, Neil Ivan, a lot attendant, is often responsible in the winter months for blowing snow off all the vehicles on the lot. Not only does he do a sensational job, but he has a smile on his face ... even when it is minus 40.
“I would highly recommend other dealers consider our Hire an Olympian program.”