Creating a unified society is up to all of us

December 18, 2020, 11:00 AM UTC
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In the United States this year, the need for social justice, diversity, and inclusion led to a nationwide rally for change. It stands to reason, then, that companies are rethinking their approach to fostering a corporate environment that genuinely serves everyone. It is, after all, up to all of us to be the change we want to see.

Inequities in society have always been present, but social and racial tragedies amid the rise of COVID-19 sparked a truly national consciousness. The business community realized that it has a responsibility to denounce racism, bigotry, and all forms of discrimination and an opportunity to encourage dialogue to bring understanding and build bridges.

That includes those of us at Toyota. Our core principles—respect for people and continuous improvement—have long served to guide us. We seek to reflect these values in our workplace, in the communities in which we operate, and as part of our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion. We believe that diversity and inclusion is important to our corporate culture, employee engagement, and to our future success as a mobility company.

Toyota is a global company, but we have more than 47,000 employees in North America, not to mention millions of customers. Understandably there is an array of opinions on social and racial justice issues. We welcome the full spectrum of those views and believe it is important for us to facilitate a deep and constructive conversation where all voices are heard.

Because let’s be honest: While Toyota and many organizations have made great strides in becoming more diverse and inclusive, there is still much work to be done to engage and support key communities and ensure that opportunities and equity exist for every one of our employees.

Diversity is not just a matter of ethics—it’s good business. Research shows companies with effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are more profitable.

In fact, companies with diverse management teams are…

—33% more likely to generate better-than-average profits;

—70% more likely to capture new markets; and…

—able to generate 19% more revenue from innovation than companies with below-average leadership diversity.

Corporations must also recognize the critical role the multicultural community plays in their business success. For example, the African-American community accounts for more than $1.3 trillion in consumer spending. How can we ignore a group of people that is so pivotal to the economy? And it doesn’t stop there: Latinx Afro-Latino, Asian-American, Native American, LGBTQ+, disabled, and veteran communities remain underserved despite contributing a great deal to corporate America.

As the chief diversity officer for Toyota Motor North America, it is both my passion and my mandate to help the multicultural community thrive. (And to those of you in that community, I say: We are here for you, we stand by you, and we are committed to supporting you.) Indeed, companies seeking to make meaningful progress in this area often solicit my advice.

Here’s what I tell them.

First, acknowledge and understand that these issues are real and genuine. Ask yourself: “Am I really looking at this fairly?” Many people ignore social inequities because it seems out of their control or they believe unconscious bias in the workplace is not prevalent. Once you acknowledge the problem, you can start looking for ways to make change.

At Toyota, for example, we have…

—held diversity training on unconscious bias for executives and employees;

—invited speakers to discuss social and racial justice;

—held listening sessions with employees;

—created opportunities for employees to get involved; and…

—established a social justice action committee and an executive diversity and inclusion committee to discuss issues and next steps.

Second, cultivate accountability and involvement at the leadership level. Diversity, equity, and inclusion must be a top strategic priority, and have tangible goals linked to a company’s mission and business strategy. At Toyota, this means maintaining the company’s leading market share for ethnic minorities and making a commitment to add more diverse dealers per year, among other initiatives.

Third, commit to the acquisition, growth, development, and promotion of minority employees through mentorship programs, professional development, and other initiatives that expand and enhance opportunities for minorities.

Fourth, embrace all communities beyond the corporate walls. That could mean supporting legislation that addresses social and racial injustices, financially investing in highly impacted communities, or funding initiatives focused on the education of minority youth. At Toyota we have formed strong relationships with our business partnering groups, dealers, political leaders, and community partners because we know that we can’t do it alone. We’re confident our combined efforts will make a difference.

It is clear that we as a nation cannot move forward if we leave others behind. As corporate leaders, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to create a more equitable world where we all flourish. We must all aim to continuously improve our communities by addressing the inequities that surround us.

Sandra Phillips Rogers is general counsel, chief legal officer, and chief diversity officer at Toyota Motor North America.

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