The auto industry has an opportunity to lead on issues related to justice, equity and inclusion if it listens to a wider array of voices and "taps the genius" of Black, Latino, indigenous and other communities, CNN commentator Van Jones said during the June 10 edition of Automotive News Canada Congress Conversations.
To see Van Jones' entire address—and presentations from other speakers—register for on-demand access of the Automotive News Canada Congress Conversations here.
Mobility "touches every human being. You can make changes in this industry that will ripple out far beyond the narrow confines of this industry and set an example for the world, and we should do so," Jones said in the online session moderated by Automotive News Publisher Jason Stein.
His comments came as the spotlight on systemic racism and racial injustice in Canada and the U.S. and calls to address such issues have grown over the last year. The idea that the private sector should stay "out of political conversations" has been "blown away," said Jones, a former Obama administration adviser.
The companies that commit to change are bound to have success, particularly among younger consumers who are demanding more from businesses today, he said.
Those companies will "recognize that, 'hey, maybe my grandkids won't look like my grandparents. Maybe my grandkids won't pray like my grandparents. But those are still Canadian kids,'" he said. "Those are still human beings, and I want the best for them. People who live from that point of view are going to be rewarded in the marketplace, not just for the next quarter but for the next quarter-century."
The panel also featured Hyundai Canada CEO Don Romano who said valuing different perspectives within a company or a dealership would strengthen make the organization. He pointed to Hyundai as an example, saying his organization is made up of immigrants "from all over the world" that bring different perspectives to the table.
"I'm hoping that's making sense to all the dealers that are listening right now, that when you harness the energy, the power that comes from all those different perspectives, you're going to come up with better solutions," he said.
Hyundai in December became the first Canadian auto maker to sign onto the BlackNorth Initative, which encourages Canadian business leaders to commit to ending anti-Black racism within their organizations and in society at large. The company has vowed to seek out dealers of color to add to its Canadian network.
Jones urged industry leaders to make genuine connections with people in their organizations and to listen to their perspectives and feelings with empathy. Auto industry leaders should recognize that they are "leaving dollars on the table" if people within their companies "don't know how to work together," he said.
"I don't want a straight, white male… to want to work with me out of a sense of obligation or pity or grievance," Jones said.
"Let's learn how to work well together so that all of us can have more," he said.