December 3, 2020

Ford Credit: Legacy processes prop up barriers to diversity, inclusion

As the nation contends with racial inequality concerns in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in police custody this year, auto lenders reflect on progress from fledgling diversity and inclusion programs.

Major auto lenders, such as Ford Motor Credit Co., have worked toward workplace equality for years, yet many formal programs with a focus on race are less than a year old. In an email, Staff Reporter Jackie Charniga interviewed the co-chairs of the Ford Credit Diversity and Inclusion Council — Craig Carrington, president of Ford Credit International Markets, and Gale Halsey, Ford Credit vice president of human resources — about eliminating barriers to a diverse work force and ensuring executives remain engaged in the process. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: How long has Ford Credit had a diversity and inclusion program or initiative?

A: Carrington: Ford Credit has been focusing on diversity and inclusion for at least the past 20 years, but the efforts weren’t always coordinated. Employee resource groups have flourished, executives have led workstreams on different initiatives, and many training programs have been delivered over the last 20 years. In 2019, then-CEO David McClelland asked for a group of five employees to study this. The Ford Credit Diversity and Inclusion Council was established in 2019 as a result of that study and to help coordinate various efforts. This passionate group of employees took the recommendations from the study team and have put them into action with the full support of the executive team.

The second event that turbocharged our focus occurred when our current CEO, Marion Harris, took the helm. In his first town hall meeting with all employees, he said diversity and inclusion are among his top priorities and then followed it up by establishing personal diversity and inclusion objectives for all employees.

Does Ford Credit have an internal mentorship or support group program?

Halsey: We have a number of mentoring initiatives, including mentoring circles, lean-in events, reverse mentoring and executive listening sessions. In my opinion, the two most powerful are advocacy and listening sessions. Our Ford Credit advocacy program allows our top executives to get to know people they may not see or work with daily. Many of these employees have been identified as key talent, and the executive is to be a voice for them in decision-making meetings, project assignments for development and overall coaching. The executives are energized by the conversations and have embraced their responsibility. The second most powerful program has been listening sessions. Ford introduced this concept in 2020. The listening sessions are designed for an executive to attend a meeting with the sole purpose of listening to the different experiences of employees and their struggles and perceptions of the company. This has been a powerful opportunity to build empathy and has impacted leaders in profound ways.

How does the company approach diversity and inclusion in hiring practices? What are some of the barriers to hiring diverse talent, and how are you working to overcome them?

Halsey: Hiring diverse talent starts with seeking out diverse talent. Our traditional model was focused on the same schools, the same recruiters and the same hiring practices. Let’s face it: People love to recruit from the schools they attended. And if we don’t have diverse schools, diverse interviewers and a genuine story to tell about our efforts to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, we get the same results. In 2020, we asked a group of employees to attend a sprint led by our talent director, Denise James. These employees fundamentally changed the way we approached recruiting. Like many other companies, we reached out to [historically black colleges and universities]. But we also broke our mental model of sending recruiters to their favorite schools. We also shifted to virtual recruiting, which reaches a broader audience, including working students who could not attend talent conferences held during the day. Our virtual intern program, although a COVID necessity, changed the way we think about the intern experience and broadened our thinking about the types of work they could do from the business centers. We experimented with a concierge program sponsored by the Michigan Colleges Alliance, which gathered resumes for us from the private colleges in Michigan. And we changed our mental model of relocation. We had insisted that our college graduates, as part of a rotational program, had to relocate to a business center that was not near their home. The recruiting study uncovered that students didn’t want to relocate in the first few years of their career.

How do you feel about the company’s progress in terms of diversity and inclusion efforts?

Halsey: I’ve had to look in the mirror. I’ve been the vice president of human resources at Ford Credit for four years, and I have been blessed with a diverse executive team that genuinely desires to make a difference. Taking a deep look into the organization and our processes and pinpointing areas of opportunity have sped up our progress. That included busting some HR policies that got in the way of progression for all employees. Case in point: We changed the requirement for relocation as one factor for promotion. We no longer require supervisor approval for an employee to post for an open job, and we encourage every interview slate to be diverse. These policy changes help the whole work force thrive. We are seeing real, measurable results, though we still have a long way to go. Our goal is to make everyone feel included and valued. I believe the secret to diversity, equity and inclusion lies in our ability to create opportunities for conversations that result in genuine empathy for every employee.

Carrington: Diversity and inclusion efforts have been sincere, but they have been disjointed and lacked a unifying purpose. We’ve had pockets of great progress, but areas with little or slow progress, too. I take heart at the efforts being put forward at this time, as something feels different. I firmly believe that you cannot legislate or write policy that wins hearts and minds. But you can work to build and instill the culture that you want to have, and we are actively engaging. We need a culture that is comfortable with the uncomfortable, and that is how we will make progress. I am a minority, and most of the minorities I know are not looking for a handout but for fair access to the table. Once given fair access, we are confident that we can earn a seat at the table. And once seated at the table, we want a voice that is heard.

How do you feel about the progress of the auto lending industry as a whole?

Carrington: We don’t necessarily think of this exclusively in our industry. We study those across financial services and other industries that deliver outstanding experiences to their customers that drive loyalty. One of the things we find is that the most successful companies are the best at meeting the customers on their terms, and that must come from a deep understanding that undoubtedly includes a team that understands the diverse needs and wants of the customers. Also, we can learn a lot from dealers across the country who understand how to serve diverse customer groups in their areas. They get it — from staffing to customer experience to ownership to service.

What are the strengths of a diverse employee base for an automotive finance company?

Halsey: It’s important to remember that you can be diverse without being inclusive. So we must be intentional to create an environment for all employees that is inclusive, where each person feels he or she belongs and that welcomes the unique perspective and value each team member brings to our work.