The job of a lifetime is something most aspire to but, for some, the fantasy simply is much too difficult to even comprehend.
Lisa Brown is a 21-year veteran of the automotive industry, and she has spent 18 of those years at Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA). There she found the “job of a lifetime,” despite being a woman in a male-dominated industry.
Today, as Brown serves as Volkswagen’s Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, her passion for diversity and inclusion is fulfilled daily.
“I firmly believe that workplace diversity increases employee engagement and drives organizational performance. It’s a win-win,” said Brown, who has been in her current role since 2014. “I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In my position, every day is exciting, because I have an opportunity to make a real impact at work and in the community.”
Brown credits her mother, Brenda, with putting her on the road to success and supporting her along the way.
“As a single mother of four, my mother was always persevering, but I never saw that there was a struggle. I’m the youngest and I was always encouraged to aim high,” she said. “My mom didn’t finish college, but she always says that she earned two degrees, because she typed all of my papers and, even today, helps me with editing my dissertation.”
Raised in Detroit, Mich., Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a master’s degree in communications from Wayne State University. Currently, Brown is a Ph.D. candidate at Walden University, where she is pursuing a doctorate in management with a concentration in leadership and organizational change.
“A dream without effort is just that…I live by that,” said Brown.
Previously, Brown held several positions at VWGoA and has gained a unique skill set from working in areas like operations and human resources, all which help her today.
“The automotive industry is traditionally male-dominated and I had the opportunity to begin my career with the company as, not only one of the first women, but also the first woman of color to hold the Fixed Operations Manager position – which I held for over a decade,” said Brown. “In this capacity, I worked to increase our aftersales business at the dealer level.”
Brown continued: “I was fortunate to hold that position for 12 years before taking over the role of Sales Operations Manager in West Palm Beach, Florida, then Richmond, Virginia. These positions in operations allowed me to develop the necessary business acumen to move our diversity initiatives forward.”
Lately, Brown’s primary focus is managing the Employee Resource Group (ERG) network. ERGs are employee-driven and provide employees the opportunity to engage with their peers around causes they support and really tap into the heart of the organization. These groups are invaluable to the company as they give employees an opportunity for professional development and networking, while providing the organization with market insights and perspectives from a cross-cultural lens.
When Brown joined the diversity and inclusion department there were only three ERGs. Today, there are 13 with more than 500 employees participating across the country in Herndon, Va., Chicago, Ill., Chattanooga, Tenn. and Auburn Hills, Mich. There are even two virtual groups.
“In two short years, the network has quadrupled. I am glad our employees see value in these networks,” said Brown. “Not only are these groups avenues for networking, individuals are able to contribute to the company and take ownership of their careers.”
Brown added: “It’s a big accomplishment, considering it’s a two-woman show. The energy around ERGs is positive. They evolve out of grassroots efforts that are employee-driven.”
Building on the ERG network as a cross-cultural and diversity-driven resource for employees, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation recently honored Volkswagen Group of America as one of 407 major businesses that earned 100 percent on the 2016 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.” This accolade recognizes companies that satisfy CEI’s criteria on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. VWGoA has earned this honor for nine out of the last 10 years.
“VWGoA is privileged to employ such a diverse and dynamic workforce,” said Machelle Williams, Volkswagen’s Senior Director for Diversity and Corporate Social Responsibility. “The Human Rights Campaign honor speaks to our commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment, where innovative thinking and better results are driven by the individuality of our employees.”
Brown is also proud that one of the company’s ERGs helps to foster such an inclusive workplace.
The Drivers of Respect, Inclusion, Value, and Equality Alliance ERG (DRIVE) is a virtual ERG that is open to all employees, including LGBT and allies. Employees are invited to support the company’s LGBT outreach initiatives and contribute to discussions around company policies, provide marketing insight and more.
With all of these great accomplishments, Brown cautions that there’s always room to improve. That’s why she and Williams continue to look for new opportunities to engage employees and help them grow personally and professionally.
“If VWGoA is going to be competitive and a ‘Great Place To Work,’ a diverse and inclusive workplace is vital,” said Brown. “We also want to attract top talent and know that a diverse employee base is key. Prospective employees need to see themselves in our employees. We want that new hire to look at our leadership team and see herself in that position in the future.”
Brown said that Volkswagen also plans to continue their Executive Mentoring Program to ensure employees have access to senior leaders as well as the resources to become successful.
“I am always looking for opportunities to increase brand awareness on Historically Black College and University campuses,” said Brown. “My hope is that as brand awareness increases, so will employment consideration.”