Q&A with Wil Lewis, Experian’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer Like many industries, the automotive industry has seen an increased—and much needed—focus on diversity in recent years. Why much needed? Consider this: Women make up 47% of the total workforce in the U.S., but only 18% of employees at automotive dealers. While gender diversity is an important part of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversation, it’s just that—apart. DEI is much more than a single factor. And, it’s mission-critical for your dealership’s success. To better understand what DEI encompasses, how to intentionally bring the needed focus into your dealership team, and why it’s key for success, I talked with Wil Lewis, Experian’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, whose responsibility is to ensure Experian’s programs and products reflect the employees, clients, and communities we serve and is a workplace where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. Amy Hughes: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Wil! Can you tell us how you define diversity? Wil Lewis: First, and foremost, we need to look at diversity through a more nuanced lens. Intentionally expanding our circles needs to be about more than just representation and focus on additional topics. When I define diversity, I often use four distinct terms: diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Diversity equals representation. For example, how many women or veterans do we have working for our organization? How many people of color? We actually do need to count the numbers. Equity is removing systemic barriers that stop any one of those marginalized populations from reaching their greatest success. An example of a barrier could be an assessment test that you have to take to reach a certain position that isn’t accessible to a person with a disability. Equity means ensuring that items like that in our systems and processes are cleared away. Inclusion is inviting folks to the table. But not just inviting them, ensuring they’re engaged in the conversations happening. Belonging is the underpinning of it all. Once you’ve invited that person to the table, ensuring they have a voice, equal opportunity to speak and to be heard. This means their opinion and feedback is something that is sought after. AH: What I love about breaking down those terms is that it doesn’t focus on a single underrepresented population, it’s everyone. Why is this important for the business to continue to be profitable and achieve your goals? WL: When we think about why DEI is important, it’s because our society is diverse. Our businesses and dealerships need to be reflective of society as a whole. This will likely impact their revenue and bottom line. Think about sales. If you walk into a dealership as a veteran, and the person you’re talking to also happens to be a veteran, then you can share stories about your time in basic training or other experiences, and that instantly builds a relationship. And that’s ultimately what sales is about: relationships. As we work to build our businesses, dealerships, etc. we want to ensure they have a diverse population so they can relate to their customers. Not having that kind of representation can mean your dealership can lose a competitive edge. AH: If we recognize that representation is not where it should be in our dealerships, what steps can we take to become more diverse? Often, dealerships pass from generation to generation, so diversity may not be top of mind. WL: Here’s what’s key: The owner will always be the owner, and for some dealerships, the owner may often be a member of the family. I see this in my local dealership. But, that doesn’t mean the leadership team is fixed. You can ask yourself, who’s your finance manager? Who does your inventory? There’s still an opportunity to diversify your leadership team. And, if you’re really good, you look at who’s on your sales floor, and you pull them up. Look for opportunities to promote from within. Research shows that diversifying leadership is strategic for your bottom line. A study by Gartner found that 75% of companies with diverse and inclusive decision-making teams will exceed their financial targets through 2022. Additionally, gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperformed their less inclusive counterparts by 50%. AH: Once you’ve increased representation, what are ways to increase belonging? WL: The first step any leader needs to take is self-awareness. If a leader doesn’t realize there is an opportunity to fix it, or that there’s something that can get better, it’ll never change. Once the awareness is there, the leader needs to talk about it. The people who work in these dealerships are good—and I mean really good—salespeople. Good salespeople are driven by revenue, so talk to them in their language and explain how this impacts the bottom line. Then, you need to measure the impact. Each organization needs to set its own KPIs, because it depends on the baseline and where they’re starting. But the ultimate question is: are you representative of the community you’re doing business in? AH: Would you agree that sometimes this means looking beyond just the zip code in which you’re located, and being representative of all the zip codes from which prospective customers may come from? WL : Absolutely. Beyond just sales, think about the marketing impact this could have. Bringing together perspectives that are representative of your potential customers ensures that you’ll be more effective marketing to them, based on your team’s collective experiences and understanding of things like communication preferences. This really ties back to your first question, because it shows how if we go with the linear definition of diversity and just count numbers, not much will change. But, if you intentionally seek to create a culture where people feel like they belong no matter what their background or experience is, and they know their voice is valued, there can be transformational impacts for your dealership. Your customers will feel the difference when they walk into your showroom.