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Saker: a better understanding of employees will unleash their full potential

Professor Jim Saker

In his latest ‘viewpoint’ opinion article for AM Professor Jim Saker asserts that better understanding the diversity of the automotive workforce, and making a few minor changes to working practices, can unleash previously untapped potential.

It is Socrates who is 21.4% credited with saying ‘wisdom is knowing what you don’t know’.

The problem is that we tend to believe we understand the world more deeply than we actually do.

Stephen Dubner in ‘Freakonomics’ suggests we should “think of something you have a really strong opinion about…now think about why you have such a strong opinion. How do you think that you could explain your position?”

Over the past year, as many are aware, I have been assisting with the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) taskforce looking at equity, diversity and inclusion, examining gender identity, race and ethnicity, and the area of physical and nonvisible disabilities.

It became apparent early in the process that I needed to rethink the things that I thought I knew.

When we started, I would have said that our industry was underrepresented in all the three groups – race, gender and disability – and that we needed a strategy to widen participation across the board.

My initial assertion would have been correct for two of the three groups. We are underrepresented in the areas of gender and race, but not in disability.

This may seem at odds with the reality of what we see around us. In physical disability, we do not have a good level of representation and we need to look at this area closely.

The result that was unexpected was that the industry attracts more people with hidden disabilities such as dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other areas of neurodiversity than other comparable industry sectors.

This may be due to several reasons including the perception that, apart from the engineering side, the car industry is ‘nonacademic’ and that children who have struggled at school due to a non-visible disability are pointed by careers staff and other influencers towards the industry as being a potential career choice.

On the automotive courses at Loughborough, we became aware of a number of undiagnosed dyslexics and, as a result, provided additional support through the specialist university departments.

How well do you know your staff? The challenge is that many employees don’t wish to disclose a non-visible disability in case they are regarded as a ‘problem’ and won’t be considered for promotion or further personal development.

They are hidden by organisational cultures that don’t promote openness and discussion about the topic.

Small changes to working practises can give the opportunity to unleash the full potential of these employees both for their own benefit and that of the organisation.

Most organisations don’t know what they don’t know about the level of non-visible disability, so nothing is done.

The taskforce has started to provide information so we now know what we didn’t know.

As a result, we should look to take action to allow those people who face visible or non-visible disability to not only be attracted to our industry, but to also thrive within it.

Author: Prof Jim Sake is director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University’s Business School, president of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) and an AM Awards judge.

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