"It's about enabling everyone to be their best version of themselves and creating the right environment as an employer so people can thrive, do their best work and stretch themselves to be better than they realised they could be," says Rachel Shepherd, General Manager, HR & Facilities at Toyota (GB).
Rachel is talking about Toyota (GB)'s commitment to the UK Automotive 30% Club, along with other company-led initiatives such as its Gender Diversity Plan, started in 2016. As she explains, her passion is about learning and development, and helping people to reach beyond what they think they can do, whether through coaching or the programs that give people insight, help and support, and nurture them to be their best.
She started her career in the public sector, where she was wanted to give something back. When I moved into Human Resources (HR), I became fascinated by helping people embrace the change that was right for them. And giving them the right tools and support in order to be able to do that."
Encouragement, opportunity and relationships
Rachel never thought she'd be with any organisation this long, remarking it's already been 20 years at Toyota. Alongside the constant challenge, the opportunity to do something different and make a difference, she remarks the supportive company environment has been paramount: "From the start of my career I've always been encouraged. At Toyota, it's always very much an open door to talk about the development of people, and that's what really attracted me, and has kept me at the company. It's that desire to do the right thing for people and create opportunities and structures that enable people to grow and develop."
There's also the positive multi-relationships with people in the company, its dealers and customers. Rachel comments: "For me, all of those parts come together in a renowned global organisation, where you can be proud to work."
She adds that throughout the company there's a willingness to "really have great conversations about people, what we want to make happen for our people and the environment we want create."
That multi-level environment includes a focus on helping women succeed in the industry; Toyota (GB) has been involved in the UK Automotive 30% Club's mentoring scheme for three years. Rachel adds that the UK Automotive 30% Club’s annual conferences brings an opportunity for networking and learning about opportunities for women in other industries.
"The conference is varied and gives a great opportunity to learn from your peers."
She adds that the conference encourages the ongoing conversation, "along with the connection to Julia and other industries that she's progressing. It's a great partnership that assists us, as a business, in getting out to the schools and creating an understanding of what our industry does, and all the different opportunities."
As Rachel explains, the automotive industry is rapidly changing and challenging people's traditional views: "There are so many different opportunities, and we've got to get great about talking about what the industry is becoming."
That conversation includes telling the business story so that women think differently about the industry as an entry point, and middle-career women can also realise opportunities in the industry. "We talk about team management and customer experience, which may be more attractive to different audiences, and about flexible work schedules," says Rachel. "We're being clearer about our scope as an employer, and we hope that will attract different people to have a conversation with us about opportunities. We have a connected strategy."
That strategy includes partnering with various agencies on campuses to get people to think differently about the industry, re-writing job adverts and job profiles, and encouraging flexible working along with the tools and managerial support. And, along with the recently launched 'Women on the Verge' programme, the company offers structured networking sessions within the business. As Rachel explains: "The sessions get women talking to each other, encouraging each other, having open conversations. We had one about learning from the careers of our current senior women, where people shared their stories and career tips. It was very open and honest, and helpful in busting a few myths, and understanding it's not necessarily about the same route for everybody, but about being clear about some things you might choose to do along the way."
Rachel comments the business is very supportive of this approach and recognises that the company's staff needs to reflect the diversity of its customer base, and the importance of delivering that as a business.
She concludes: "It's not about articulating difference, rather it's about embracing difference and working with it. And understanding that we may come at things from a different place, but that's okay, it's just a common understanding of the power of that diversity. There's a clear sense that women don't want any special treatment, we're just putting things in place to make sure there's nothing in the way of everyone being the best they can be. It should be about the conversation across the team, and it should work for the team."