The auto industry is littered with diversity and inclusion initiatives that are not working. Having a diverse background myself, I have followed the advancement of the industry over the past decade. I have seen successes and failures; with the latter companies that have not understood the strategic importance of diversity. Last month, I spoke with a company that takes diversity seriously, Bentley Motors. The iconic automaker shared their approach and how they drive inclusion globally.
After reaching its 100th anniversary, Bentley announced a strategic plan named Beyond 100. The intention of the plan is to position the automaker to “remain relevant for the next 100 years”. Beyond 100 has big ambitions like moving from 12-cylinder gasoline engines to all electric vehicles, becoming climate positive, and becoming more diverse in all human aspects of the business. The diversity goal was based on research showing that Bentley customers and employees change rapidly.
The executive leading the diversity effort is Wayne Bruce, Bentley’s global communications manager. Being diverse himself, inclusion is personal for Bruce. He’s half English and half Jamaican – and he’s gay too. Growing up, he was harassed by the police, bullied at school and excluded from social groups. From his life experience, Bruce recognized that if Bentley was to remain relevant, he had to become more diverse. “Our teammates cannot reach their full potential until they can be authentic themselves… and when they reach their full potential, Bentley will too,” explains Bruce.
To gain support for his idea, Bruce needed the support of Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark. At first Bruce dreaded Hallmark’s feelings towards diversity, but after a discussion he quickly found an ally with a shared vision.
RECEIVES THE OPINION OF THE CEO
Hallmark gave Bruce two hours with the Bentley Board of Directors to explain the importance of diversity in the future of Bentley. The Board of Directors unanimously agreed and added a company-wide workforce diversity initiative to its Beyond 100 plan. The Board of Directors is aiming for 30% diversity of its leadership over the next 10 years, which would make it one of the most diverse automakers.
To get more internal support, Hallmark asked all Bentley employees to spend an hour learning about the initiative. He also encouraged them to speak openly about how diversity and inclusion affects them. Employees responded quickly, and once taboo topics, such as mental illness, became common topics of discussion. “It was a revelation,” says Bruce.
WHY DIVERSITY MAKES SENSE FOR COMPANIES
Businesses have a moral, and often legal, obligation to promote inclusive and non-discriminatory practices. But a short-sighted stance on diversity and inclusion is not enough. Bentley has expanded its commercial presence in 68 countries, exposing the company to different nationalities and geographic nuances. And besides geography, other changes are occurring as well.
The average Bentley customer is getting younger and traits like ethnicity, gender and LGBTQ status are increasingly mixed. Preferences for vehicle customization have also changed. The days of ostentatious luxury are over, and more thoughtful (or justifiable) luxury purchases are the new normal.
For example, Bentley buyers are increasingly choosing all-black accents over chrome, and walnut veneer is typically replaced with piano black. Recognizing this shift in demographics and consumer preferences, Bruce explained why diversity makes sense for business.
REASON 1: ATTRACTING TALENT
Diversified employees shy away from companies seen as undiversified, as do their undiversified counterparts. Job applicants see a homogeneous company as “old school” or “out of touch” and, therefore, unable to deliver a desirable employee culture at a broader level.
For Bentley, attracting diverse talent is hampered by its geography. The company’s headquarters and manufacturing plant are located in Cheshire, England, a rural part of the country known for its farms, medieval castles and a multigenerational population of native Britons. It is nothing like London’s cultural mecca, and many diverse employees are reluctant to relocate there.
To overcome these limitations, Bentley implemented a multi-pronged approach to recruiting through various affinity groups. It also leverages its global presence to recruit talent into its multinational offices. For talent in high demand, especially in fields like engineering or IT, it offers remote and home options.
Bentley is also enhancing its existing culture by promoting inclusion programs that recognize employee segments by ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ status, mental health and other areas. “We provide an environment that encourages our international employees to be open,” commented Bruce.
REASON 2: ATTRACT (AND RETAIN) MAIN CUSTOMERS
At the risk of stating the obvious, when a company lacks talented employees, its products and services suffer. This affects customer loyalty and threatens the survival of the business. But what is less obvious is that a growing number of consumers expect their favorite businesses to share their social values.
In recent memory, we’ve seen companies like Nike make controversial social statements that have garnered considerable attention. But many observers failed to realize that these statements resonated with Nike’s core and loyal customer base – no coincidence. Automakers have recognized these trends and have attempted to align their brands with the values of their customers. This is especially true for luxury car manufacturers.
Bentley owners demand that the automaker be relevant to them. These clients are almost 40 years old and come from diverse backgrounds. As a group, these customers are more focused on diversity and inclusion than typical car buyers and have the means to avoid brands that do not share their values. After all, driving a car with an average price of $ 200,000 is a claim, and “Bentley doesn’t want the same fate as the fur coat,” says Bruce.
ENLIGHTENING CONVERSATIONS AT THE TRADE LEVEL
To raise awareness of its initiative, Bentley looked for ways to encourage inclusion among its customers and dealer network. Bruce came up with the idea for an “inclusion vehicle” and enlisted the help of the automaker’s design team. Richard Morris, a Bentley designer, volunteered to paint a Flying Spur in the colors of the Progress Flag, which represents “inclusion and progression” for all diverse groups. Bentley’s communications team aptly named the vehicle the Unifying Spur, and it has become a global sensation ever since.
The Unifying Spur has been featured at well-known automotive events, such as Monterey Car Week, IAA Mobility Show, and Tour d’Elegance, as well as inclusive events, such as Pride in Paris and NYC Pride Parade. Last June, LGBTQ celebrities took to the backseat of the Unifying Spur to read poems promoting inclusion during Pride Month.
To further the company’s ambition of sparking conversations about inclusion, Bentley has made five Unifying Spurs, with more in production. The Unifying Spurs are currently deployed at automotive and inclusion events in Australia, Europe and the United States.
HITTING THE SPEED RELAYS
Promoting diversity and inclusion has not been easy for the automaker. In Saudi Arabia, which has laws banning gay activity, the anti-LGBTQ pushback has made the Unifying Spur unwelcome by many. And in the company’s factories, some employees have refused to wear rainbow-colored inclusion masks for fear of appearing LGBTQ. But ultimately, as Bruce explained, “once we corrected a misconception that the mask made it easier to include all groups, employee buy-in was almost universal.”
DIVERSITY IS NECESSARY FOR SURVIVAL
The changing global workforce and changing consumer preferences have forced large companies to adopt diversity strategies. Bentley’s efforts ensure that the 100-plus-year-old automaker remains relevant to its customers and employees. As the auto industry moves towards electric vehicles, expanding customer demographics and a reliance on global markets, automakers must embrace change to survive. As Bruce states, “We need to change more in the next 10 years than we have in the last 100.”