For the automotive industry to develop women and visible minorities into upper management positions and receive equal pay without gender bias, it’s going to take a full effort from manufacturers and companies, which was the overall message at Empowering Auto 2022.

The event, presented by Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. at the opulent Aga Khan Museum in midtown Toronto on November 22, attracted a crowd of 200 from various sectors and backgrounds. It featured guest speakers in leadership positions, many of them women, and panel discussions.

“As a company we started five years ago having the conversation on what we need to stand for and what we need to be,” Hyundai Canada President Don Romano said. “From those conversations, they turned into small actions and then we started putting HR policies in place. We do not hire from the outside unless we interview a person of colour, minority and female. It’s required. You can’t just interview four males and pick the one you want.”

He said the idea for the event was put forward by three Hyundai managers: Katherine Mior (HR & DEI), Aryan Habib (Connected Vehicles & Telematics) and Jenn McCarthy (Public Relations).

“I had nothing to do with this, I’ve got to be honest,” Romano said. “This was done by the people we hired five years ago and started putting this vision together of who we wanted to be and this stuff just happened. If I had the impetus to make these things happen then something went wrong in establishing the vision and what I really wanted to do with our company to set us apart. It has to do with all of us (in the industry), but this group happens to be from our company.”

Mior said Hyundai is committed to diversifying the workforce but knows it won’t happen overnight and that it isn’t beneficial operating in silos.

“With that in mind we made this conference a brand of its own, open to the entire automotive industry,” Mior said. “Speaking to my fellow organizers, we were overwhelmed with the support we received from our competitors and other key players in automotive. The outcome is exactly what we were hoping for – new connections forged and cross-OEM meetings planned ahead with our respective women’s employee resource groups.

“We’re just getting started. The Empowering Auto conference will grow in subsequent years and we’re already responding to requests for speakers, panelists and attendees next year.”

Romano said he was impressed by the diversity of the turnout, including men, women, people of colour and different ethnicities.

“To engage with your customers, you need to understand your customers, and to understand your customers you have to be able to relate to their backgrounds, where they are coming from and the diversity of our country – which I believe is the most diverse country in the world,” Romano said.

“When you put two and two together, you either diversify and change or your success will not be sustainable because it will not all be about the product. The product alone is not going to carry you long term. It’s the way you engage with the customer.”

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