By Mike Todd, CEO at Volkswagen Financial Services UK
As someone who started out in the automotive sector back in the 1980s, I feel I have a pretty well rounded view of how the industry has evolved in recent decades.
Whilst certain fashions have come and gone, the quality of the cars we’re manufacturing has been on a constant upward trajectory and the latest crop of Volkswagen Group models are more advanced than many of us could have ever imagined.
The same, too, is true of how businesses have kept up with the times and engaged in digital technology, and at Volkswagen Financial Services UK, we are striving to create a seamless online journey with our brands and network partners.
However, one particular aspect of the industry that requires our collective attention is the topic of diversity and inclusion.
Embarking on a D&I journey
Creating a more inclusive and open-minded workplace culture is something that’s really important to me as a business leader and whilst it’s true to say we’ve made important strides since the 1980s, we still have a long journey ahead to create a truly diverse sector.
A Diversity Task Force set up by the Institute of the Motor Industry found that non-white British workers, and female workers, are significantly under-represented in the automotive retail sector.
This is a great shame because I believe values of diversity and inclusion should be of significant strategic importance to our industry; to thrive and adapt we need different perspectives and different voices in the room.
The automotive sector is evolving at pace. The way that people want to research, buy, rent, access, finance and drive personal vehicles is changing and we need diverse workforces to tackle and overcome these challenges.
Naturally, this issue is a work-in-progress but I believe businesses that fail to improve their cultures will get left behind.
At Volkswagen Financial Services UK we commissioned the diversity and inclusion consultants, EW Group, to conduct a full review of our approach to Diversity & Inclusion.
The report highlighted and commended our efforts up to this point, demonstrating that the actions and programmes we have already undertaken have been a solid foundation for progress.
But we didn’t commission EW Group to simply tell us what we were doing well and whilst our culture was recognised as having immense potential for implementing a far-reaching and forward-thinking approach to diversity and inclusion, there is of course room for us to do better.
And I think it’s incumbent on all of us to ensure we’re championing inclusive cultures that allow people from all backgrounds to flourish and contribute to a successful automotive industry.
Taking steps towards change
Whether it be a matter of ethnicity, gender, socioeconomics or neurodiversity, it’s essential that diversity is celebrated and colleagues from diverse groups are given the same opportunities to progress their careers and be their most authentic selves at work.
I know it’s something the wider Volkswagen Group is especially passionate about, but a particular programme we run at Volkswagen Financial Services UK is our Reciprocal Partnership scheme, which pairs two individuals together to engage in regular dialogue and influence positive change within our business.
The scheme helps to identify bias, barriers or blockers that may impede progress into senior leadership roles, while encouraging a culture where colleagues feel empowered to speak up. It’s about the open and frank exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences.
All our employees are welcome to sign up to the scheme and all we ask is that participants are trustworthy, respectful, patient, active listeners and good communicators. Colleagues have discussed a variety of important social topics that will help us develop our culture of inclusion.
I also believe that this conversation encompasses supporting colleagues with mental health challenges.
As I mentioned earlier, our industry is experiencing an incredible period of flux and we all adjust to change in different ways. As we recover from the pandemic, continue to deal with the fall-out of Brexit, as well as ongoing supply chain issues and rising interest rates, lots of people across the sector will be feeling certain pressures.
Earlier this month we marked World Mental Health Day by kicking off an entire Wellbeing Week programme packed with tips, tools and activities to help colleagues lead healthier, happier lives.
Looking after our mental, physical and financial health is as important as ever right now and we're committed to helping everyone in the VWFS UK family be at their best.
We know these things aren't always easy to talk about, but you never know how much a five-minute conversation could help a colleague in need.
The key message I hope readers take away from this month’s column – especially decision-makers in senior roles – is that diversity is a real benefit to any business.
We all have a part to play in making sure we’re producing inclusive cultures for everyone to be at their best and developing this agenda is, I believe, absolutely key to future-proofing the longevity of our industry.
For more information about our current vacancies, visit our careers hub.