GM DE&I chief Telva McGruder: Auto industry must commit to ‘continuous improvement’

David Beckam

DETROIT — Speaking to a gathering of automotive industry professionals at a conference on diversity, equity and inclusion, General Motors‘ top DE&I executive encouraged the audience to create “self sustaining” workplace environments that foster such initiatives.

“It means that we’ve created an environment that will sustain itself, and what we aim to do at General Motors, and I know what many of us are aiming to do, is to walk into a world where everyone owns equity and inclusion,” said Telva McGruder, GM’s chief DE&I officer. “Not the DEI team, not [human resources] … literally everyone and when you get to that point, then we can really talk about sustainable diversity.”

McGruder on Tuesday delivered the keynote address at the fifth annual Rev Up 2030 DE&I summit in suburban Detroit, presented by The Center for Automotive Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. The daylong program consisted of networking opportunities and panel discussions among leaders representing automotive manufacturers, suppliers, franchised retailers and aftermarket retailers, plus consultancy Deloitte and insurance firm Liberty Mutual, on various DE&I topics.

When most people ask about a company’s DE&I progress, McGruder said, they turn to observable data such as representation in the work force and bias awareness. While improving these metrics is beneficial, they don’t answer the question of what’s required to create a self-sustaining DEI environment. To do this, it’s important for companies to analyze what a sustainable DE&I environment looks and feels like for its employees.

“It looks like people being valued for who they are, where everyone gladly brings their unique capacities to work every single day, where people are happy to get up and come to work in the morning, where very little external energy is required for teams to solve big problems,” she said.

McGruder was named the automaker’s first chief DE&I officer in 2020 after almost three decades of working as an engineer for the automotive company. Automotive News named her an All-Star last year.

McGruder said by achieving an environment that fosters DE&I, companies will be able to take advantage of the strengths and capabilities of team members who come from diverse backgrounds.

She said many times companies don’t want to discuss DE&I initiatives because they don’t want to discuss their faults. Improving DE&I is not about “wrong,” McGruder said, it’s about wanting to be better.

“What we’re talking about is continuous improvement, which requires acknowledging that where you are today isn’t as good as you can be, as an individual, as an organization or as a business,” McGruder said.

McGruder discussed creating an environment between employees and executives when it comes to creating DE&I progress. She emphasized the importance of understanding why certain practices are in place to facilitate trust.

“In the United States, the way we’ve been culturally conditioned is we think this is all about making sure Black people, Hispanic people, disabled people, etc., have an advantage or have some kind of opportunity that’s unfair, or it’s about bringing [in] people that aren’t qualified,” McGruder said. “It’s not about any of those things. What it’s about is ensuring that everyone has the opportunity they deserve based on the work they’ve done and is supported in doing future work.”

McGruder emphasized the importance of DE&I in all companies, regardless of industry: “We have no desire to be the most inclusive by ourselves.”

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