What Does Diversity and Inclusion Look Like In The Automotive Retail Business?

Bears Auto Group. Photo by Randy Stern
Bears Auto Group. Photo by Randy Stern

Back in February of 2021, Paul Walser, the then-Chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association urged retailers across the country to look at diversity and inclusion as a priority towards success. Walser said, “[l]et’s find the path to attract a more diverse workforce. Then let’s implement training to help them succeed.”

Where this statement comes from is part of what his namesake dealership chain based in the Twin Cities has been doing for years. Just recently, Walser has taken further steps to ensure that diversity and inclusion are part of their overall strategy within the company through the establishment of employee resource groups, along with emphasizing recruitment and retention of their current workforce and management to reflect their goals. 

According to Dayna Landgrebe, the Director of Diversity, Engagement & Foundation at the
Walser Automotive Group, the automotive retailer’s diversity and inclusion strategy starts “with people. If you want to understand and grow diversity and inclusion, you have you know your people. For Walser, that meant understanding who our employees are and what they want and need from Walser as an employer of choice. By simply asking, we learned that family is a top-ranking core value for many Walser employees.”

Dayna Landgrebe. Photo courtesy of the Walser Automotive Group

“It also means digging deeper to bring representation to the table,” Landgrebe further explains. “Our Employee Resource Groups like Drive With Pride and Women of Walser are focused on the recruitment and retention of historically marginalized communities into the automotive industry. These affinity groups are open to all Walser employees and are considered part of the employee experience. These groups are an amazing avenue to diversity while opening a direct line to business knowledge and professional development events.”

In fusing the ERGs with a diversity and inclusion strategy, Landgrebe witnessed its results firsthand. “It’s a pretty amazing thing to see an Employee Resource Group come to life in a company,” Landgrebe explains. “Walser has made amazing strides in culture and diversity because of these groups and the people moving them forward. I’ve had the privilege of supporting the formation of two ERGs at Walser. After overseeing this process, I can tell you the highest highs often come after acknowledging the lowest lows.”

Further to that point, Landgrebe pointed out who this strategy was fully implemented, “[B]oth ERGs needed the opportunity at the onset to openly express the pain sometimes felt as a marginalized community,” said Landgrebe.” I think that expression can be uncomfortable for some folks, especially in the context of work. That said, I really do believe vocalizing that distress is a steppingstone in the formation of any ERG—employees need to feel heard and acknowledged for their differences and the pain that sometimes comes with it.”

Photo by Randy Stern

Walser is not the only automotive retailer that employs an approach towards diversity and inclusion. According to Ed Chang, the General Counsel at White Bear Mitsubishi and The Bear Lot, “At the heart of each of our operations are dedicated people who are putting forward their best efforts and given opportunities to do their best work each and every day. We empower them to take care of our customers and each other. We trust in the varied experiences that each person brings to the team. We ask for feedback and involve people in improvement initiatives.”

“We have instituted programs that help to provide a fresh approach to considering employee background information,” explained Chang. “We welcome applicants from all walks of life. We know that life isn’t always fair to everyone, so we ensure that each applicant has an equal chance to present their best attributes during the applicant process. Diversity isn’t limited to race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, and national origin, we have proud members of the LGBTQ community currently thriving within our company. We have employees who are successfully navigating our customer service systems and helping customers thanks to assistive technology we’ve provided.” 

Walser Nissan Wayzata. Photo by Randy Stern

Chang also looked at results when implementing these strategies, and seen how both White Bear Mitsubishi and The Bear Lot has seen through its own employee retention programs. “Companies that embrace the DEI approach have shown to be more productive and have higher employee retention when compared to non-DEI environments where the workforce is less diverse and less likely to offer varied experiences and viewpoints,” said Chang. “This lack of variation can sometimes stifle progress.”

“A diversified workplace also promotes a sense of greater appreciation for differences in people that can help enhance overall employee satisfaction in the workplace,” explained Chang. “These differences are not only cultural and ethnic, but they are also life experiences and perspective. We are looking for qualified candidates, but we also learned that we can look for diversity as well.”

Landgrebe recently came back from the 2022 NADA Show in March, and she reports that “without a doubt that every dealer in the country is trying to figure out how to find and keep diverse talent. There is no silver bullet, but I can promise you this—you can’t have a diversity strategy if you don’t have a people strategy first. No matter your industry, culture transformation requires leadership, commitment, human and financial resources, and, probably most importantly, patience. It’s a committed approach over time.”

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