A few months ago when I came across an NAACP press release online that said Chrysler and UAW/Chrysler were going to be participating sponsors at this year’s 41st NAACP Image Awards held Feb. 26, I was really surprised.
It’s not that it was unusual for Chrysler to be involved in the Image Awards or that the event isn’t deserving of the company’s support. The Detroit-based automaker’s been a very active sponsor of the Los Angeles awards ceremony for years.
In fact, I’ve attended the Image Awards several times as a guest of Chrysler as part of their efforts to support the event that celebrates the achievements of minorities, like actress Mo’Nique, who won an award at this year’s Image Awards for her critically acclaimed role in the movie “Precious.”
For years Chrysler held Behind the Lens, launched in conjunction with the Image Awards, recognizing and celebrating the achievements of individuals behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. Behind the Lens has drawn some of the biggest names in Hollywood to share in the recognition and the accomplishments of honorees like directors Spike Lee and John Singleton, and legendary producer Quincy Jones.
Why was I surprised to hear of Chrysler’s involvement with the Image Awards? Well, considering the state of today’s economy and the push for more companies to cut costs, a lot of businesses are either eliminating, slashing or simply not saying anything about diversity as part of their future plans.
Other companies have been stressing what’s being described as a more “integrated” approach to diversity by making it part of general or overall strategies, which has heightened concerns about the fate of it altogether. The question a lot of companies are asking is, “What is the business case for diversity?”
Chrysler, on the other hand, is making it a point to openly discuss how they plan to improve their diversity strategies since emerging from bankruptcy this past June in a new ownership structure with the Italian automaker Fiat.
STARTING AT THE TOP
Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Dodge and SVP of Chrysler Product Design, says the entire way Chrysler has approached diversity is under review — a push coming all the way from the top with Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, notes Chrysler officials.
“The whole way we approach it has been a little bit of a search,” said Gilles, credited with heading the design of the award-winning Chrysler 300C when it launched. “There needs to be a more consistent approach to diversity.”
Even more telling is the fact that Chrysler acknowledges that the company hasn’t been as successful as it could be when it comes to diversity.
“Right now it’s broken, there’s a lot of potential, a huge upside,” Gilles said.
Al Iacobelli, vice president, Union Relations, UAW-Chrysler, said the automaker has been undergoing a complete overhaul in all facets of its operations with regard to diversity.
“Our workforce is going to determine our product in the future,” said Iacobelli.
Lisa J. Wicker, director of global diversity and talent acquisition at Chrysler, said the automaker is currently looking to fill a number of positions as part of its overall strategy that includes diversity.
“Current position openings include engineering, production supervision, finance, accounting, human resources,” she said.
Chrysler’s visibility at the Image Awards was intended to show that the company is still very much committed to diversity, said Wicker.
General Holiefield, UAW vice president and director, UAW-Chrysler, stands firmly behind the automaker’s commitment to diversity.
“Diversity has been within Chrysler’s structure. America is a melting pot and it is very reflective of the people who work at our facility,” said Holiefield. “We are diversified from the basement to the top. We are committed to diversity.”