CADIA champions diversity, inclusion in manufacturing

Dec. 18, 2019
Interview with Cheryl Thompson, founder and CEO of the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement (CADIA)

In this pod, Christine LaFave Grace speaks with with Cheryl Thompson, CEO and founder of CADIA, the center for automotive diversity, inclusion and advancement. In this interview, Christine and Cheryl discuss the new CADIA 2.0, diversity, inclusion, and much more.


Amanda Del Buono: Welcome back to another episode of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce. I’m Amanda Del Buono, and today’s pod will feature Christine LaFave Grace’s interview with Cheryl Thompson, CEO and founder of CADIA, the center for automotive diversity, inclusion and advancement. In this interview, Christine and Cheryl discuss the new CADIA 2.0, diversity and inclusion, and much more.

Here’s the interview.

Christine LaFave Grace: Cheryl Thompson spent 30 years working for Ford Motor Company. She started in 1986 as a dishwasher and steadily worked her way up at the company through multiple tooling and engineering roles. Thompson earned a bachelor of science in manufacturing and her MBA along the way and eventually became a global prototype manager at Ford. In 2018, she founded CADIA—the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement, a not-for-profit organization with a focus on advancing women into more leadership roles at automotive companies and supporting the industry’s next generation of decision-makers. In 2019, Thompson, a 2019 Influential Women in Manufacturing honoree, made CADIA her full-time focus, and in November, the organization announced the launch of CADIA 2.0, with an expanded focus encompassing development of all diverse talent in the industry. CADIA 2.0’s mission is to double the number diverse leaders in the automotive industry by 2030. Cheryl, thanks so much for your time in joining me today.

What spurred the decision to make a deliberately inclusivity-focused organization even more inclusive?

Cheryl Thompson: For one, inclusion is in our name, so that was one reason. We started out for women, and we started to see that women were running up against obstacles and that talent systems are not necessarily set up to support the full diversity and often they’re talking to each other. Lots has been done as far as women’s leadership training, training and development for women, all kinds of affinity groups, and often, we’re just in the room talking to ourselves. We have to bring leaders into the mix. So that was a big thing. The other thing is other dimensions of diversity or underrepresented talent began to approach us with the same concerns that women were facing. So, often they don’t feel like they belong; they were experiencing unconscious bias, had similar issues such as lack of access to the mainstream networks that help (other individuals) get ahead. So for all of those reasons we decided to sit down and really take a look and come up with a strategy. I call it the three Cs: How do we champion diverse talent; how do we drive systemic change; and how do we support the leadership commitment? Because we don’t want to leave the leaders out, either. They’re the ones that make the decisions, hold the influence, have the money, and who are helping others come along that ladder.

CLG: When you mention unconscious bias, that’s something that we hear more and more about lately. And for me, I think about the example of, just because you don’t see something or you haven’t experienced it yourself, doesn’t mean it’s not a real phenomenon. Can you talk to me a little about how you define unconscious bias and how it crops up in the automotive industry? 

CT: Sure. I think you described it perfectly. I have my own unconscious bias, and we’re all constantly learning. And I think the important thing about bias that’s something to remember is we can’t blame or shame, because we see the world with our perspective; we have our networks that we’re comfortable with, but we must begin to open up, look outside of ourselves and accept there may be a different way. There may be value in engaging (in different ways), in bringing people in to your network who are different from you. I’ve made mistakes myself and had my own biases and had to check myself. I think the reason it’s such a challenge in our industry, in automotive and manufacturing, is because it has been so male-dominated for such a long time, especially in the leadership positions. The higher up the pipeline you go, the more and more that exists. I think it’s a great, exciting time; people are starting to realize there may be another perspective to consider.

CLG: On the other hand, too, what would you say to skeptics who might say, “Well, why does it matter?” To those who would say, “I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, black, white, green, purple, whatever, as long as you can do the job, you’re good with me, so why are people trying to put arbitrary numbers or targets on this kind of thing?”

CT: That’s a good question, for so many reasons. First of all, we have different starting points. It is not a level playing field. We all have access to different opportunities, different networks. There’s the idea of privilege. There’s an exercise that is often done in many diversity and inclusion trainings or even unconscious bias trainings called the Privilege Walk, where the facilitator will have everybody stand on a line, and you get to take a step forward or a step back depending on what the question is. So, for example, if you were born in the United States, take a step forward. If you have ever been concerned about calling the police when there’s trouble, take a step back. And so at the end of the game, you’re either way forward or you’re way in the back and that really speaks to all of us having a different starting point. And then you look at where the demographics are going—there are so many trends coming together to make this really a business imperative. 

If you want to have a company with good talent and be able to attract and retain that talent, we’re going to have to consider, how do we make our workplace more diverse and inclusive? The other thing I would comment on is, you look at a homogeneous workforce, and they’re often all kind of—that groupthink could be going on, all thinking the same way, “We’ve always done it this way.” They haven’t had that fresh perspective. But when you bring in diversity, whether it is diversity of race, gender, nationality, ethnic group, sexual orientation, background, education, so many more ideas come to the table, and we’re so much better at problem-solving. You’re more creative; you’re more innovative, so it’s better for business. 

For more, tune in to the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast!

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