Sandy Stojkovski, CEO of the $8 billion Vitesco Technologies North America, is putting her efforts behind this push as a founding member of the CEO Coalition for Change, formed in January under the auspices of MICHauto, a partnership between the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"The CEO Coalition is certainly very important," Stojkovski said. "We are ready to open the doors and welcome other CEOs to join. Businesses can move the needle—perhaps more than any other entity, businesses can make a difference. And nobody is really helping to solve this problem.
"This is not a competitive topic. We need to talk about the lessons learned, the best shared practices. But frankly, I'm done with making the case for change. It is time to make these changes. We have to move that direction and the tone is set from the top."
As Stojkovski looks to guide a culture change in the industry, she also is guiding Vitesco N.A. through its spinoff from Continental A.G., a move that was made as the companies address the EV revolution and the prudence of forming cost-effective business segments.
Stojkovski began her career 25 years ago and has worked in startups and Fortune 500 companies alike. She took the top post at Vitesco N.A., the former powertrain and drivetrain division for Conti, when the companies announced the spinoff in October 2019.
"Launching Vitesco Technologies as a standalone company enabling the industry's transformation toward electrification is a global exercise relying upon our talented team of employees and exceptionally strong leaders," said Andreas Wolf, CEO of the global Vitesco Technologies. "Sandy has a command of the North American market. We are thrilled she is being recognized for her leadership, dedication and strategic approach to problem solving."
In November 2019, Stojkovski was named one of the Top 100 Leading Women in the North American auto industry by Automotive News.
"Growing up as a woman in a male-dominated industry certainly informed my point of view, informed me as a leader," she said. "A lot of us are still trying to figure it out—nobody has figured all this out yet. We are all on our own journey, and we are not done by any means."
The bigger picture
One of the key tenets to understanding a diversity program, according to the CEOs Coalition for Change, is that it cannot just be about increasing diversity for diversity's sake—there must be a foundational shift in attraction, hiring, engagement and accountability, a way of ridding unconscious bias based on age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics that are unrelated to job performance.
Perhaps the most important aggregate effect of an effective diversity program for a business—the big picture, like Lincoln and his cabinet envisioned—is that it improves the bottom line.
Companies make more money with a more diverse work force.
"There are studies showing that it can help the bottom line," Stojkovski said. "And the answer is yes, for all those reasons. It is just morally the right thing to do. When employees, customers and investors see this done, this is exactly the reason why it can trickle to the bottom line."
A May 2020 study, "Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters" by management consulting firm McKinsey and Co., involved 1,000 companies from 15 countries, and showed that businesses with high ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams were 36 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability.
"In the COVID-19 crisis, inclusion and diversity matter more than ever," according to the study, the third in a diversity series that began in 2015. "Our latest report shows not only that the business case remains robust but also that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time. It shows that companies should pay much greater attention to inclusion, even when they are relatively diverse."
According to the study, increased diversity at the top levels offer an advantage in talent recruitment; improved customer orientation; greater employee satisfaction; better decision making; and innovation.
"When we make progress together, we go further, we go faster together," Stojkovski said. "The name of the game is transformation—there is technology transformation, culture transformation and then work force transformation. This comes from being innovative in both processes and business models.
"You absolutely need the best minds coming together, and this comes from diversity in teams, with different points of view and backgrounds. Equity and inclusion make diversity work."
Slow progress, but progress nonetheless
Successful diversity programs are incredibly hard to achieve. But they are crucial to the American work force.
And what is more American than a melting pot?
A 2016 study by Harvard University, comprising 30 years of data from 800 companies, found that mandatory diversity training actually made work forces less diverse, while voluntary diversity training was found to be "much more effective for companies," according to the study.
It may seem self-evident once again, but it is counterproductive to make rules that are self-sabotaging. Even structured grievance systems tended to encourage exclusion rather than inclusion, according to the Harvard study.
Mentoring was found to work well, as was minority college recruitment and creating diversity positions within the upper-level "cabinet." Stojkovski said Vitesco is "actively recruiting a chief diversity officer" for just that reason.
"It is responsible leadership," she said. "At Vitesco, any external recruitment must have a diverse candidate plate. Obviously this is an important piece to having a fuller view of the candidate pool."
As the CEOs Coalition for Change notes, equity and inclusion are two arms of the systematic push toward a more diverse culture change. But the effort also must include attraction, engagement and accountability.
"With the attraction piece, I think the auto industry presents complex challenges and opportunities," Stojkovski said. "The powertrain and auto industry is a great challenge for someone who likes to solve problems. Very often what you are exposed to creates familiarity and the feeling that something is within reach.
"The attraction comes from familiarity and exposure. If you can see it, you can be it."
Ensuring that an even playing field is met in hiring practices can have its own subconscious pitfalls. Stojkovski cited studies that showed the difference between genders in hiring.
When a woman looks at a job description, she often won't apply unless she believes she has a 90-percent match for her skills, while men tend to apply with what they believe is a 50-percent match between the job description and their skills.
"We all have to check our unconscious bias at the door and be aware of it," she said. "We need to put in systemic changes, with unbiased training programs—even roll them out in personal goals, equity goals that are related to performance reviews."
The segue to accountability is apt, as diversity or equity goals connected to performance should earn rewards or consequences, Stojkovski said.
"Accountability is a very important piece," she said. "You need to tell them what you want them to do and there should be rewards and consequences for that desired behavior."
One way to meet such diversity goals could be through engagement with a colleague.
"Think of someone brand new in the industry. Previously maybe they sat in the corner and were told, 'Listen but don't talk.' This is not the way to get the best out of an organization. We need to set a vision to create a culture where all talent can thrive—in the majority and minority, the tenured and the new employee.
"The crux of your question, at the center of these things—how to make sure that voices are heard and seen—is belonging."
Members of the CEO Coalition for Change and CADIA know the transition to meaningful change in workplace diversity is slow. They said the group is "going beyond window dressing" in addressing these changes.
"This group of CEOs is committed to taking bold action that goes beyond window dressing for meaningful and sustainable change," said Cheryl Thompson, CEO of CADIA. "They not only have the levers to change systems, processes and policies, but also the responsibility to set the tone for the behavior and culture change required to make our industry and communities more inclusive, diverse and equitable."
Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the coalition can serve as a major catalyst in this effort.
"For our industry to grow, for new technology to come to life, and for our industry to be viewed as a high-tech growth industry, then it must be as diverse and representative as the global population it serves," he said.
Stojkovski noted that the benefits and difficulties of implementing meaningful workplace diversity are not new notions. What is perhaps novel is the pragmatic, empirical approach detailed by the CEOs Coalition for Change.
"This is something that has been around for a long time with a lot of talk, for as long as I've been in the industry," she said. "Previously there was no understanding of root causes, why issues perpetuated themselves. For our own journey we need to focus on root causes and work with employees in a collaborative way."