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Ken Barrett of GM talks diversity outreach programs

Photo courtesy of GM

At this year’s Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard, General Motors and NASCAR announced the second year of their diversity scholarship contest. The scholarship was an effort between the two companies to draw diverse employees and fans. We got an opportunity to attend the race and talk with Ken Barrett, global chief diversity officer at General Motors. Barrett discusses the diversity programs at GM and the company’s partnership with NASCAR.

What does your job entail?

I’m responsible for everything related to diversity inclusion, inside both internally and externally with General Motors. Big things that I focus on are talent and trying to bring talent to General Motors that is diverse with unique perspectives and that can really help us drive innovation. Once we get the talent on board, making sure that they feel empowered to infuse ideas in to all the processes we have, talent is a big piece of it so I’ll do a lot with that talent. There is also a market piece of it as well and that’s kind of building relationships with constituencies all around the U.S. Since I’m global, it’s kind of merging markets as well. I have to figure out where we have opportunities to compete and win in the marketplace globally. Obviously, there’s only one of me so I can’t be everywhere, I have to rely on a huge network and I call it my ecosystem inside of General Motors.

Can you tell us about all of the different components of the GM diversity branch and how they work together?

We have a diversity communications team, diversity marketing team, talent acquisition team that is there to attract diverse candidates, a corporate responsibility team, we’ve got our supplier diversity team who works with minority and women suppliers, a minority dealer development network and also a women’s dealer development group. I align those efforts across all of the functions to be able to make sure we really optimize how we either go to market or find talent.

Many people aren’t aware of all of the diversity outreach programs that GM has, can you list those and explain how they work?

There’s a lot with respect to trying to be able to make a genuine connection with different groups of folks and constituencies across the United States. For me, a good way to talk about it is to look at our employee resource groups. We have 12 main groups, including one for African Americans, one for Hispanics, one for women, one for new employees, one for people with disabilities and so on. In a lot of those each individual areas, we may have an initiative we’ve targeted to that particular group. So we will do stuff with respect to people with disabilities. For example, we have a program called “Going for Gold” where we are one of five member companies that are trying to hire more people with disabilities in our organization. We have done a lot trying to be able to train and hiring managers. We are now seen as the leaders in trying to bring people in with disabilities. We do things with Veterans and all of the other groups as well. I will say that each one of the employee resource groups has four pillars that they have to build their business plan towards: One is to attract talent like them, another is to help develop that talent, there’s a community outreach aspect too and then ultimately, [to] sell cars.

How did the partnership between NASCAR and General Motors come about?

This is only the second year of the program. Whether it’s trying to promote drivers that are diverse, folks that work in the pit crews, or working crew teams, they have been sure to incorporate diversity into all [of] that. They have been involved with this for some time and there was an opportunity where we saw that their scholarship promotes the things that we look for. We’re looking for STEM talent, we’re looking for diversity, so there’s no better place to partner.

alexis townsend 

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