When a company welcomes a new employee resource group, the question is asked as to their motivation in doing so.
In the case of the Walser Automotive Group, it comes down to simple encouragement for their 1,850 employees—to bring “your whole self to work.”
Walser is one of top automotive retail groups in the U.S. They operate 31 locations in two states: Minnesota and Kansas. Based in Edina, Minnesota, Walser has become one of the first, if not the first, automotive retail entity to sponsor an ERG for their GLBT employees.
According to Sherry Schultz, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Walser, the new ERG “Drive With Pride” was an outgrowth of another ERG for their female employees. Seeing the success of Women of Walser, Schultz explains that the company “talked about the fact that real inclusion means that we begin to educate and embrace the differences in the work group. There were suggestions from our folks as to other resource groups or the celebration of these differences that they would like to see and [GLBT] was the one that emerged.”
“We listened to what our employees ask us,” said Schultz. “When they say this is important to us, we take our cues from them.”
However, Schultz affirmed that Drive With Pride is in its infancy and that the company is looking inward first among its people before creating new efforts beyond Walser’s campuses. However, she explains that the ERG could provide “internal support, employee assistance programs geared towards supporting [GLBT] and family members. It could be a benefit and healthcare reform, different things that we’re looking at with our healthcare providers to educate and advocate for hormone replacement therapy and different things that we’re working with our providers to understand. It could mean defining policy and pronoun usage, which is really important to many of our folks and being sensitive to those differences as you transition into real deep understanding and education is part of what I hope this resource group does.”
Last fall, Walser hosted a launch event in Minneapolis for Drive With Pride. Ninety people were in attendance from across the company to celebrate the dawn of a new ERG. This was good news to Walser recruiter Jon Perrone, who is now the President of Drive With Pride for the Minnesota locations. “Our launch event had just shy of a hundred people there from all divisions, all areas,” said Perrone, “and it was really neat to see the people who raised their hands and wanting to be part of this.”
Even with a successful launch event, Perrone has his work cut out to lead the ERG from Walser’s headquarters throughout its 18 dealership and five service centers across the Twin Cities and Southern Minnesota.
“A lot of people [are] coming out try to find out more about what it is and what our purpose is and mission,” said Perrone, “Which we’re still exactly finding out what our vision is for 2020. [The Drive with Pride members want to know] what the newly elected board’s vision is, but I’d probably say the interest is hundreds of people wanting to know what’s kind of in it for them? What it means for them personally, but also their career.”
Ultimately, Perrone sees Drive With Pride as a place for Walser’s GLBT employees to “bring their whole selves to work.” The first step for Walser’s ERG is to be an internal resource, especially when not everyone who are either out or questioning their orientation and identity. “We want to be able to be that resource,” Perrone explains, “and provide resources to them, and maybe point them in the right direction towards things, so we really want provide a really good network as well of resources [for Walser’s] people, but also in digital resources, and from articles, and professionals in that through our employee assistance program, and programs that we have access to through our healthcare programs, and stuff like that as well.”
By looking internally first, Walser is starting to look at how they would execute their ideas this year.
The one question we ask of any ERG is whether they have the support of their upper management. Schultz stated that Walser CEO Andrew Walser supports the new ERG as “an advocate.” Andrew’s sister, Nancy Warner, Director of the Walser Foundation, is the executive sponsor of this ERG, according to Schultz.
At Walser, this is just a start. They need some time to get organized and start their initial stages of implementing their ERG for their GLBT employees. What will come next will take some time.
However, Walser started something unique in this part of the automotive industry. Maybe this could become a trend at other automotive retail groups?
Knowing that Walser is starting to engage with its GLBT employees across the group, this may be another place for us to shop for a new or pre-owned vehicle.