Trevor Mather believes that a company has an important role to play in positively contributing to society and that the make up of a company should be reflective of the society in which it operates. Not only for its own sake, but also to encourage a broader, more creative culture and community. As Chief Executive Officer of Auto Trader UK, Trevor and the leadership team are focused on ensuring Auto Trader is a diverse company: “It’s critical to encourage different viewpoints. I want to have people around me with different views, who constructively disagree, who actively challenge people I can sit across from and feel they’re different, diverse and not just like me. And, of course, the gender difference is an intrinsic part of that.”
He freely admits that particular insight wasn’t always obvious to him: “in my early career, diversity wasn’t something at the top of my mind. I helped build a business that rapidly went from zero to more than 100 people. After about 18 months, growth slackened, although I couldn’t work out why.”
It took a comment from the company’s chairman to pinpoint the problem: “He pointed out to me that I’d hired everybody in my own image – it wasn’t really everybody, but it was a very strong core of people that were just like me, which meant we had a culture of limited debate, discussion or disagreement.”
On the back of that observation, Trevor made fundamental changes over the next few years to create a more diverse team. “The people we hired from then on were more reflective of the world,” he says. “That business is now truly global, employing more than 3,500 people – and I do not believe it would have got there without that correction and then the focus needed to act upon it.”
Data, technology and diversity
True diversity of thought creates opportunities: “Gender diversity should be a key focus for every business. Companies need female role models to inspire the next generation and to act as mentors.
He is constantly learning about the issues that women face: ‘I’ve done a lot of reading, I bring this topic up with women all the time and have attended women’s conferences where the attendance is 99%+ women – it’s been massively helpful in helping me, as a white male, to understand how it feels when you are often in the minority.”
He points out that Auto Trader is both an automotive business and a media business and is increasingly data-driven and technology-oriented: “Historically, technology has a similar male bias as the automotive industry. And so, we’re in this strange cross-section where we are a media business that tends to provide a relatively balanced workforce, with a focus on automotive and a growing technology centricity that doesn’t.”
He adds that a customer-facing team is often automotive focused, and gender balanced, while the back-office team is technology/operations focused and tends to be male dominated.
“This is something that will pervade the entire industry. Manufacturers and retailers increasingly need to rely on technology, and that’s an industry that is sadly still dominated by men. If there aren’t enough women coming through schools and universities interested in computer science and technology, then this challenge is a real issue for businesses, intensifies the challenge for the automotive industry and ultimately to wider society.”
Making the extra effort
Trevor says it’s essential to create Diversity and Inclusion strategies that will make a difference both in the shorter term, but also in four to five years time. “For example our annual graduate or apprenticeship intake must be at least 50-50 gender balanced. And I don’t accept excuses for not reaching that target, because I believe if we can’t find enough women then we’re not looking hard enough. You have to put the extra effort in to find them.”
The company’s senior executive team has seen the gender ratio of its participants increase from 30% women to 50% over the last two years, the senior leadership development program strives for a 50/50 ratio and in addition to making sure all opportunities are equally available to women across the business, there is a strong mentoring programme in place.
Trevor comments: “If you can match up the right mentors for people, we have seen how people can benefit and blossom, gaining confidence to go on and achieve even greater things.”
He is determined to ensure a consistent number of women come up through the ranks: “We must be prepared to put in that little bit of extra effort to make sure women have opportunities they may not have had.”
Trevor admits getting people to understand why such actions are being taken can be difficult: “Being open about it can be hard, because if you say that we need more positive action to drive more women into leadership, then men may think that’s unfair. So, three years ago, we decided to make sure everyone understood the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce. I wanted to encourage people to walk in someone else’s shoes, so that they could understand how they feel, and to appreciate life from someone else’s perspective.
Together with the team leaders from across the Company, Auto Trader built a training programme that enabled discussion “about why diversity is important, why inclusion is important, why it’s important to invite different people from all sorts of different societies into our offices and into our employment.”
Now the conversation has moved away from unfairness and is centred around: ‘Why aren’t we doing more to enable this?’
As he comments: “I feel really proud of the company. There’s people from all levels saying that we should be doing more, and asking what else we can all do, how can we all help to drive the changes we want to see.”
He adds: “When graduates or other people come into Auto Trader, they see colleagues and leaders who are like them and you can only hope that that motivates and inspires them. We want people to feel comfortable in our company, and in our offices. Everyone should be able to be their true selves at work.
Referring to the UK Automotive 30% Club, he comments that female role models for the business are incredibly important: “There’s no one better placed to inspire others than those who have succeeded already, and those who continue to achieve. Women who are open about their experiences and who actively share their learnings to other women (and men) in our organisation and beyond have been incredibly powerful. Role models can come from all over the business, so it’s our job to ensure we highlight them and encourage them to share their stories and inspire others.
He concludes: “We’re reaching our goals not by artificially putting a woman in the senior team, rather by a long-term programme of continually pushing those people to be as good as they can be. And when they turn out to be as good as you hoped they’d be, then it’s a natural, no-brainer solution that they become the leaders of tomorrow.”