Stellantis expands leadership development program for women, minorities

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Because of a female leadership development program, Deepti Patel of Rochester met her future boss — now, she's a manager in researching what customers want from an electric vehicle and is a mentor to other women.

Patel, 39, is one of the 86% of several dozen women employed by Jeep and Ram maker Stellantis NV who've received a promotion or reached a developmental assignment after partaking in the company's eight-month training and mentorship initiative. And now the company is expanding the program, adding this year two more annual classes for Black talent as well as employees of diverse backgrounds based on race and ethnicity, disability, veteran status and sexuality.

The 2020 class of the Women’s Leadership Experience graduated in October 2021. Stellantis NV is expanding its leadership training initiative by adding classes for Black employees and workers of other diversities, including race and ethnicity, veteran status and sexuality.

These programs seek to identify up-and-coming leaders, usually around the entry manager level, build them up and create a talent pipeline of people whose communities historically have been underrepresented.

"It really leads to a sense of empowerment for our employees," Lottie Holland, Stellantis' director of diversity, inclusion, engagement and equal employment opportunity, said of the Women’s Leadership Experience that is providing the framework for the new initiatives. "Once they're empowered, they feel some sense of, if you will, psychological safety, to be able to share their ideas and to be able to contribute and to be able to show up to work as their authentic selves.

"That is really a lot about what this is: us empowering them with the tools for them to be themselves not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of all of us."

The automaker declined to share where it stands with respect to diversity in its managers, directors and executives. Holland said with programs like the WLE, Stellantis exceeded its executive goals last year. The program seeks to improve results identified in studies like McKinsey & Co.'s Women in the Workplace Report that shows 1 in 5 senior executive leaders at U.S. companies is a woman.

"There's some great studies that we actually used and then confirmed and validated that we were directionally in the same place where there seems to be a drop-off in women not advancing at the same pace as maybe they came into the corporate world," Teresa Thiele, director of aftermarket purchasing, global body and interior and North America operations and co-chairwoman of the Women's Alliance, said prior to the implementation of the WLE.

The program launched in 2018 and has since graduated three cohorts of roughly 25 women from different areas of the company. It will run concurrently this year alongside the 15 participants in the Black Leaders Advancement Collective and the 20 participants in Leaders Embracing All Diversity.

"To be frank, there are a lot of women at the managerial level within Stellantis," Holland said. "We have great representation of women; of course, we want to do even better, but for the other ethnicities, we still have some progress to make."

The programs connect the mentees with an internal executive sponsor, provide them the opportunity for self-evaluation and reviews by their peers, connect them with an outside leadership coach, offer keynote presentations and training, and hold events for networking and volunteering. The three classes also will partake in activities together.

The backbone is Stellantis' 11 business resource groups that create communities for staff to network, grow and engage over common issues. The Woman's Alliance is behind the initial leadership experience, which received a silver award for excellence in December from the Brandon Hall Group, a research firm, based on addressing a need, design, functionality, innovation and benefits.

Participant nominations come from human resources, senior executives of departments and the business resource groups.

Deepti Patel is consumer and market insights research manager for Stellantis NV.

Patel, a consumer and market insights research manager, was a part of the first WLE class. The relationships she developed helped her to earn a promotion into a managerial role in dealership network development in 2019 and then move into consumer insights in 2020.

"That relationship that we built through the WLE contributed to that," Patel said of her current boss, who also was a participant in the WLE at the time. "She and I kept in touch along with others, as well, but I think that really manifested itself in being able to move teams and develop myself professionally."

And now Patel is able to pass on the wisdom she has gleaned from her own experiences as well as having connected with other senior leaders about work-life balance and how to advance in the company. She now serves in mentorship roles and as secretary of the Women's Alliance.

"What I took away from the program is seeing other women in leadership positions sharing their journey and their perspectives," Patel said. "And what for me paying it forward means is that I am allowing myself to be that type of person for others in the organization who are growing and learning, as well."

This results in an exponential impact, Thiele said: "It almost plays on the idea of to whom much is given, much is required. So, we're pouring into all of these women and just to see them graduate from the program and then for them to pay it back and for them to pour into other women. It's remarkable."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble