Foto: Samantha Lee/Insider

  • Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, has big goals around inclusion and sustainable technology.
  • Telva McGruder, the chief diversity officer at GM, explained how the two missions link. 
  • She explained that EV innnovation requires everyone to prioritize diversity and inclusion. 

The C-Suite at General Motors has a motto: "Everybody in." It's how execs, including Telva McGruder, the chief diversity,  inclusion, and equity officer at GM, plan to achieve its CEO's lofty goals around inclusion and sustainability. 

In June 2020, Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, said that she wanted the automaker to be the most inclusive employer in the world. About a year and a half later, Barra added another goal to the list, declaring GM would be the industry leader in electric vehicles and would produce all-electric vehicles by 2035. 

While seemingly unrelated missions, according to McGruder, GM's goal to be a leader in both diversity and inclusion and sustainable technology are extremely connected. 

"Innovation has often happened without leaders being intentional about bringing everyone along for the journey," McGruder, whom Barra brought into her current role in August 2020, said. "So in January of 2021, we talked about making sure we have 'everybody in' on this electric-vehicle journey." 

McGruder embraces that phrase, "Everybody in," in her own work by getting everyone involved in the DEI journey.  

"What we're doing differently is focusing on having people present at all levels that represent the societies we live in around the world," McGruder told Insider. "We're ensuring that when people are present, they are truly being valued for what talent they bring." 

Telva McGruder, the chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at General Motors, worked in a manufacturing setting as an engineer for over two decades. Foto: GM

McGruder, who started with the company nearly three decades ago as a controls engineer on the manufacturing floor, has helped GM achieve notable milestones in her two years in the DEI role. These milestones include GM publishing its first government-reported diversity data in 2021 and creating a Climate Equity Fund that funds nonprofits working to advance climate equity. But there's still much work to be done. Nearly 50,000 workers went on strike in 2019 for better wages, with some workers leaving the negotiations disappointed

As a Black woman who has risen through the ranks in a historically homogenous industry, McGruder says she's focused on improving relations with workers, increasing diversity and accessibility in the company's internal tools and products, and making sure the automaker's plans to build an EV-charging infrastructure don't leave marginalized communities without access. In an Equity Talk, the executive explained how she's achieving Barra's goals.

"Yeah, it's a lot," she said. "But what's really great about working for General Motors is that I don't have to do it all by myself."

The following has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 

How is GM's journey to be a leader in diversity and inclusion related to its journey to be an EV leader? 

They go hand in hand. Our tagline, "Everybody in," means that we are designing vehicles that will be able to accommodate people regardless of their level of income. So vehicles from low- to high-income price points. It also means people who purchase electric vehicles are going to have the ability to charge them wherever they are, regardless of location. 

We have to think very holistically about what our infrastructure looks like so that we can ensure that everyone can participate in this change. We're also thinking about the impact on the electrical grid, making sure that communities that are typically underrepresented or under-considered when major infrastructure plans are made are indeed represented.

You're working on EV-infrastructure plans, you're involved in conversations around design and price points, you're trying to bring in engineers from different communities. How are you balancing all of that?

What I'm working to do as a leader of DEI is help different organizations within the company connect the dots. My team helps them weave DEI into literally all parts of the business. For example, asking a team that deals with Asian markets, "How do we ensure that the Asian market is heard in this?" or "How might an employee-resource group help with this issue?" or "How can we make sure that the companies we're working with have appropriate representation of underrepresented groups?" 

The GMC Hummer EV at General Motors' "Factory Zero" in Detroit. Foto: Nic Antaya/Getty Images

How are you ensuring that all workers, specifically hourly-wage workers, have the same access to diversity, equity, and inclusion that corporate employees have at GM?  

Most of my career at GM has been in the manufacturing space, so I'm very familiar with the climate there in manufacturing and I've worked very closely with our customer-care and our warehousing teams. So, that is my core. 

I've always been proud of the work that General Motors has been doing with the United Auto Workers, the union-leadership team, to make sure we understand what we can do to ensure that we're moving forward together.

That is something that we value very highly — moving forward with the UAW. 

At the same time, we recognized as a company that there are differences in the experiences that team members have based on whether they are represented by the union or not represented. We saw that in our surveys that we do, in interviews that we were doing with team members. And so we started a project in 2019 looking at how do we create a united, stronger workforce. So we're working toward that as well. 

You said your manufacturing experience is "at your core." What do you mean by that and how does that influence how you approach your job?  

I started at General Motors as a manufacturing engineer, specifically a controls engineer, then I moved into designing and installing new equipment at manufacturing sites all across the country and the world. I grew up on a manufacturing floor learning how to motivate people to do really hard work, how to solve problems. I knew that I didn't know all the answers, so it was really about leaning into that close-knit environment you have on a factory floor. It helped me learn to lead better. 

Not only do I want to know your opinion, but I want to learn from you. And I want to teach you what I can teach you, and we're gonna succeed together. It helped me learn how to be inclusive, especially being a Black female engineer in manufacturing.  

McGruder, pictured here speaking with engineers at a GM facility, is working to ensure GM's electric-vehicle plans include input from underrepresented voices. Foto: GM

Many companies are being pressed for transparency. How do you reconcile GM's plans to combat climate change and advance racial justice with the company's contributions to the Republican Party, some of whose leaders call climate change and diversity "woke capitalism?"  

I welcome transparency and General Motors welcomes transparency, and that welcoming of transparency puts companies in a really difficult situation. We're in an environment where people are seeing things as ones and zeroes, and things are not ones and zeros, period. You know, there's nothing in life that is that simple. 

It's not necessarily appropriate for people or organizations to say, "If you do this, then you can't do that." Like, "If you contribute to the GOP, then you can't possibly believe in fill-in-the-blank." 

General Motors has an employee-funded PAC that does support federal and state candidates from both sides of the aisle who foster sound business policies. General Motors also believes that we are contributing to a future that is more positive for people from diverse backgrounds, we are contributing to a future that is more sustainable, and we are spending a tremendous amount of money to do that. So I think what I say is that these things are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

So you're saying that progress exists in a nonbinary world, in a complicated world. 

That's exactly right. 

Inclusivity is something that's really, really difficult to do because it requires individuals and organizations to reach understandings when they're coming from different perspectives. But by virtue of understanding each other better, you can find a way forward that is going to be net positive. 

Read the original article on Business Insider