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August/September 2013

Diversity/Careers August/September 2013

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Diversity In Action

Diverse leadership is strong at General Motors

GM considers diversity of workforce and customer base a key component of its success. The company works to recruit tech stars to represent GM as speakers and leaders

In April 2012, Capt. Kenneth J. Barrett, U.S. Navy (ret) became General Motors’ first chief diversity officer. At the time, GM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said, “Diversity is and has been a key component of our success, including diversity of workforce and diversity of customer base. It can only make us a better company. That's why we’ve created this new position and filled it with a proven leader like Ken.”

Barrett has fourteen years of executive experience. Before joining GM, he served as the acting director in the office of the U.S. undersecretary of defense for diversity management and equal opportunity in Washington, DC. Prior to that, Barrett was the U.S. Navy’s diversity director, where he achieved historic levels of minority and female officer representation and spearheaded new work-life balance initiatives.

“GM works with groups like the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers,” says Barrett. “We’re engaging these groups on a national level and also the regional level in areas where we have manufacturing facilities, design centers and technology centers.”

General Motors connects with these organizations in a variety of ways. “We want it to be a full-court press,” Barrett says. “We want to get the right engineers to be keynote speakers and participate in forums, as panelists on a subject area, or in breakout sessions where we can highlight the technical innovations of the organization.

“Our talent acquisition team sees to it that we attract the best and the brightest people from the country and around the world,” Barrett says. “It’s not just women or minorities. It’s everybody. There are no goals or quotas. We want to be sure everyone receives one hundred percent consideration for every position, and there is transparency to the selection process. We’re serious about this.”

General Motors and its partners produce vehicles in thirty countries, and the company has significant positions in the world’s largest and fastest growing automotive markets. Its almost 400 facilities touch six continents.

Leadership at GM
General Motors is one of the largest employers of women engineers in the U.S., Barrett reports. Additionally, GM is the first and only auto company with an African American, Ed Welburn, at the head of its global design team. In 2011, Ernesto Hernandez was appointed as president and managing director of General Motors de Mexico, becoming the first Mexican to hold this position at GM.

Other recent high-level appointments include Alicia Boler-Davis, who reports directly to chairman and CEO Dan Akerson and is the first African American female on the executive operating committee, and Mary Chan, who is now VP of “global connected consumer.” This year, Grace Lieblein became GM’s first Latina executive to be named VP of global purchasing and supply chain.

Keeping IT in-house
General Motors has made the decision to insource all its IT work, a multi-year effort to reduce costs and increase innovation. Explains Barrett, “Internally, you need to be able to control your own information. It gives you more ability to be flexible and to adapt quickly.

“We have four software and systems development centers, called innovation centers, staffed by GM employees. These are located in Warren, MI; Roswell, GA; Austin, TX; and Chandler, AZ, just outside Phoenix. They will bring more than four thousand IT-savvy folks into the organization in the next three to five years.”

Colleges and universities are a prime recruiting source for these employees. “One way to reach them is to go to the college directly,” Barrett says, notably “HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) like Howard or North Carolina A&T or HSIs (Hispanic-serving institutions) like the University of Texas-El Paso or the University of Puerto Rico.”

GM also attends events where, for example, engineering deans from various HBCUs are together on one panel. “You have the opportunity to make multiple connections,” he explains. “We’re always looking for ways to have more impact at a school we wouldn’t get to see otherwise.”

The company also has a university partnership program that includes long-term relationships with schools in GM’s home state like Michigan State (East Lansing) and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).

GM’s intern and co-op program is open to fulltime students and recent graduates seeking degrees that fit with the future business needs of the company. “I get involved with this myself, working with the United Negro College Fund, with whom we have a robust relationship, or the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.”

Since 2011, GM’s own scholarship program, the Buick Achievers Program, has awarded more than $11 million in scholarship funds to over 2,100 students studying in automotive and related industries. “We do focus on diverse talent there,” emphasizes Barrett, “going out to communities that may be underrepresented or that do not have adequate funding levels.”

ERG members are ambassadors at GM
GM employees may join any of a dozen employee resource groups (ERGs). These offer direct contact with GM’s diversity management, human resources staff and senior management. Barrett says that the women’s group, the African ancestry group, the veterans ERG, and the LGBT group are especially strong right now.

“ERGs are doing more in community relations and community outreach. Some are evolving into business resource groups, adding talent acquisition to talent development,” Barrett enthuses. “We invite ERG members to attend some of the events we focus on, and I have no problem getting them to participate.”

Barrett’s switch from the military to the corporate world was “a bit of a culture shock,” he admits. “I see my role as a kind of ‘chief facilitating officer,’ trying to manage participation of people in the company at various levels and events.

“I’ll put rising stars in our company out there. It pays big dividends for us to have people see these folks. Millennials want to see firsthand the people their age who are making a difference.”

Barrett wants to make sure different groups across the organization move in the same direction. “We are aligning activities so that we have productive engagement, and a good reach for us as a company to drive diversity forward. It’s been a challenge but I’m up to it. Progress doesn’t come overnight, but over time.”


General Motors

Headquarters: Detroit, MI
Employees: 212,000
Revenues: 152.3 billion (2012)
Business: Global vehicle production

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