Last week I hosted about 25 high school students from Southeastern High School at our County offices, all young African Americans with life’s journey ahead of them. They are starting to make decisions about where to go after high school and what career to pursue.
In giving them an overview of County government, I wanted them to meet someone that looks like them in an executive position. It’s unhealthy for kids to grow up and not see people like them in important roles in their community, and all too often that’s what occurs today. My message to those kids last week was: “The world is your oyster. Chase your dreams because you can achieve them.”
This week, as I deliver welcoming remarks at the 19th Annual Rainbow PUSH Global Automotive Summit those kids will be at the top of my mind. We have a lot of work to do for my message to ring true to them.
The Auto Summit, which was launched by Rainbow PUSH, the civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, has a primary objective of expanding the number of opportunities to African Americans into top level positions in the automotive industry. Certainly progress has been made, but it is always easier to go backwards when you settle for where you are rather than pushing ahead.
We tell our kids all the time that the sky is the limit. But if you’re looking out into the sky and none of the pilots are people of color, then that’s a problem. Ultimately, if we are going to have a fully inclusive society where everyone has an opportunity to chase their dreams, we are going to need more industry leaders to make an intentional effort to bring diversity to the boardroom.
I recognize that some of these leaders are already doing great things with diversity, but I contend we can always do more. And sometimes doing more at just the right time is what it takes to make lasting change, which is what makes this event so important.
In the automotive industry, that right time is now.
The competition to create the first successful commercial autonomous vehicle is on. The technological innovations in the industry are coming at a dizzying rate, creating an unprecedented overlap between automotive and technology while drawing new suppliers and entrepreneurs into the automotive/mobility fold. The winners of this race to the driverless vehicle will depend on talent of all colors presenting us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to infuse the automotive industry with a wave of diverse talent.
When I compare today’s automobiles to when I was a kid, I can’t help but be amazed by the changes. Today, there are many kids who have never seen a manual window crank. They’ve only known power locks. They wouldn’t know what to do with a manual window knob if they had one.
The same is likely going to be true for a steering wheel. My challenge today is that as we groom the first generation of young people who have no idea what a steering wheel is, let’s be sure they also have no idea what an all-white, all male boardroom is.
Let’s show them a boardroom that truly looks like our county, state and country.
We can do it, and we’ll be better for it. Let’s make the new mobility era the new diversity era.