More than 200 people attended the Empowering Auto Conference in Toronto Nov. 22 – an industry-wide event aimed at helping the sector draw more women and members of underrepresented groups as it undergoes seismic change.
Hosted by Hyundai Auto Canada, the gathering featured an array of experts within and outside of the sector.
The idea behind the event was to bring “as many powerful voices together as possible to create an echo chamber advancing diversity and inclusion” in automotive, said Jennifer McCarthy, Hyundai’s national manager, public relations and event chair.
Executives from automakers including Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen, Nissan and Volvo Car Canada participated in panel discussions.
The sessions focused on a wide range of issues confronting the auto industry, from disruption stemming from online retailing, electric and connected vehicles to how to how to build high performing teams and leaders.
The industry is changing more rapidly in the next five years than the past 50 years, panelists said. And companies must manage disruption that is affecting consumers, technologies, business models, culture and diversity.
A keynote address by Laura Williams, a Toronto human resources lawyer and consultant, punctuated the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses and how to reposition themselves to ensure they can attract and retain the right talent in a tough job market.
“Empowering Auto was a fantastic opportunity to have voices from around the industry come together under one roof with a shared goal,” said Brittany Cramer, product planning manager, Volkswagen Canada, and a conference panelist.
Attendees represented more than 80 per cent of the automotive brands sold in Canada, said organizers.
“While most of us attending are competitors on the road, the conference completely shattered our differences and created a safe, inclusive and open space for us all to converse, share views and opinions, learn, and grow with each other,” said Tara Willis, Nissan Canada senior manager for diversity and inclusion, and a panelist.
Aryan Habib, manager of connected vehicles and telematics, Hyundai Auto Canada, said when it comes to DEI, the industry “has a long way to go … but where we really accomplished our goal was having non-automotive guests in the crowd. We had students and professionals outside of automotive there, and that’s exactly who we’re trying to reach.”
In a rapidly changing industry, the sector’s lack of diversification represents its biggest challenge, said Hyundai President Don Romano.
“However, by recognizing and eliminating the barriers created by our past, by participating in events like this one, by giving a voice to those individuals who never considered our industry because of its male dominated leadership, I am confident we will build a stronger, more resilient, customer-oriented industry that reflects the needs, wants and values of those we serve.”
McCarthy said plans are in the works to hold a second conference next year.