What does diversity and inclusion mean to a Fortune 500 company?

“Diversity of experiences, identities and thinking help companies tap deeper into markets, bring in new ideas, new perspectives and skills that drive innovation and uncover blind spots,” says Christopher Reynolds, Executive Vice President – Corporate Resources, of Toyota Motor North America. “Inclusion means encouraging, understanding and valuing the perspective of each person.”

To Reynolds, who was also recently appointed Chief Diversity Officer in North America for the automaker, diversity and inclusion are critical to achieving business goals. “With rapid changes in the auto industry and evolving customer expectations, diversity and inclusion are more important than ever.”

More than a business need

For Toyota, commitment to diversity and inclusion is a cornerstone of company culture; it starts with the company’s philosophy of respect for people and continuous improvement.

“Respect for people means empowering team members, encouraging them to challenge the status quo, bringing forward new ideas and solutions and investing in their growth,” says Reynolds.

“This philosophy extends throughout our entire organization, from those working on the production line who might have an idea on improving quality, to those in sales, marketing or finance. We know that by being an open company that embraces different perspectives, we can create a work environment that leads to greater innovation,” he adds.

Inclusive new horizons

Toyota is transforming from an auto manufacturer into a mobility company. So, what does that mean exactly? “For us, the future is about more than automobiles – it’s about using technology to help create greater mobility for everyone,” says Reynolds. “We still build cars and trucks, but that’s not all. Our goal, in a larger sense, is to deliver solutions that help people get around in their world — whether they need to get across the country, across town or across the room.”

“Respect for people means empowering team members, encouraging them to challenge the status quo, bringing forward new ideas and solutions and investing in their growth.”

Some of these new innovations include self-driving cars, helping to build a sustainable hydrogen economy and developing other types of mobility technologies that enable the aging or physically disabled to move independently.

Reynolds adds that these new technologies help open up a world of possibilities: “Mobility is about empowerment — and we know that being able to access reliable, safe, affordable and efficient transportation improves access to education and job opportunities and helps to build a better quality of life for underserved communities.”

Shifting goals, shifting strategy

In a time of great change in the industry, Reynolds wants to make sure diversity and inclusion are integrated into every aspect of business — never just stand-alone initiatives. “Embedding diversity and inclusion across the business, and partnering with internal and external stakeholders to understand challenges helps foster a more open company culture where people and innovation can thrive.”

To help guide the company’s efforts, Toyota seeks input from an external Diversity Advisory Board, comprised of international leaders in diversity and inclusion, public policy, economic development and community relations to help guide its diversity and inclusion activities.

The automaker also engages with diverse communities through Business Partnering Groups. “By seeking input from our Business Partnering Groups, we create linkages between universities, students, organizations and the company. These relationships assist with recruiting initiatives, workplace engagement and connect us to the market,” explains Reynolds. “Encouraging a culture of inclusiveness and engaging a diverse workforce helps attract and retain talent as an employer of choice.”