(Lack of) Diversity Will Be The Reason NASCAR Lives or Dies

7 points to save an industry

Let me start off by saying I am a huge NASCAR fan. Have been for 20yrs. I’m also a middle-aged liberal white woman who lives in the Pacific NW. I’ve worked on the creative side of tech for the majority of my career. I owned a 3D animation company for 15yrs, sold it, then worked with startups.

You should also know that I tell anyone who will listen that NASCAR is an amazingly fun, compelling, and strategic sport. It’s only getting more exciting with the engineering feats and new crop of personalities on the track.

But you know what?

On July 18th, NASCAR announced a new hire and the re-assignment/re-naming of 3 other people, all at Managing Director level titles.

All experienced.

All qualified.

All white.

All male.

NASCAR is going to die if leadership throughout the sport — both public-facing and internally — doesn’t become more diverse and inclusive within the next 2 years. As it’s been said about other industries, it appears to be a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys.

Why is the industry going to die?

Because Millennials. They are currently 25% of the workplace and by 2025 they’ll be at 75%. Also, you’ve got Gen Z right behind them, who make up 28% of the world’s population and are just entering college.

These two generations, more than any previous generation, simply will not tolerate — nor spend money on, nor work for, or engage with in anyway — any organization that can be perceived to be inauthentic and that doesn’t represent or reflect them. With all the options for attention, why should younger generations give NASCAR the time of the day?

Over the past 20yrs in the tech industry I experienced what a lack of diversity can do. You can see it here and here and here. I’ve also seen the opportunity and positivity that can happen with inclusion. This isn’t a feel-good action, it’s a 21st century imperative.

7 points to save an industry:

1. NASCAR, this is gonna take FOCUSED TIME AND EFFORT. As an industry, you have to be engaged and supportive of all genders and all people of color all the time, in all your actions, and not just when it’s time to hire. It has to be intentional. If this is a lifestyle choice for you, then these communities will be authentically networked with you. As in all life transactions, it comes back to authentically multi-layered relationships where innovation and change can blossom. You are Not lowering the bar; that’s a lazy response that we hear in the tech world, and it’s worse here.

2. It has to happen AT ALL LEVELS OF ORGANIZATION. Diversity — and inclusion — has to show up in all levels of leadership — especially in visible roles. Sure, seeing a diverse driver would be great, but just one is token. How about other visible places of leadership, like Crew Chief, or other on-the-box positions like fuel mileage engineer, etc. It’s great that we’re seeing more diversity in the pit crew, but how about those nerdier, more technical, more strategic thinking positions, not solely roles where physicality is a determining factor.

3. We need to have a conversation about BIAS.
Unconscious and implicit bias. Conscious and explicit bias.
And we need to talk about how most of us have been on both sides of bias, even those most marginalized in society.

4. TRAINING. Diversity training, unbiased training, is good to do, but training alone will not save NASCAR. Diversity training is great for compliance and when it can decrease negative bias, even better. But training alone shows little positive effect on recruiting, hiring and retention of a diverse and inclusive staff. Studies show that if a person doesn’t want to be at mandatory training they will be poison to the training. Because training is blameless; people tune out. You need more than training. You need a long-term and inclusive engagement, at all levels, with folks from every gender and every community.

5. BOTTOM LINE BENEFITS. There is proven higher revenue per employee when organizations are diverse. It’s a business-imperative with benefits that show up on the bottom line. Diversity in the workplace has been proven to increase problem-solving, creativity, and motivation, as well as improved revenue and profits, expanded customer bases and market-share.

6. METRICS Create metrics and make them public. Not just organizationally public, not just industry public, but mainstream media public. Publicly set your diversity goals for recruitment, hiring and most importantly retention. Ask for accountability partners. Be transparent.

7. Above all else, PRIORITIZE making diversity and inclusion an intentional part of your daily business. Not just the governing body of NASCAR but the teams, too. And the vendors. Demand it from the sponsors.

I completely get not wanting to alienate the old skool audience. But trying to straddle the line and be all things to every generation out there, to essentially try to study the risk out of any seemingly risky decision, is going to sink everything.

The work that is being done by Drive for Diversity, by NASCAR’s Diversity Internship program, REV Racing, GladiatHers.com, is important work, and the groundwork to attract a diversity of talent in all levels and departments of motorsports. But these programs are mostly focused on the diversification of the racecar driver.

Plus the only reason I know about those organizations is because I actively looked for them. A casual observer would have no idea.

I realize that so much of the homogeneity is systemic within the industry. For drivers it’s magnified because there is a better chance of success in “racing-families”. And then there’s the high-cost-of entry into the sport.

NASCAR needs to take a cue from the momentum of awareness in the tech industry and get ahead of the problem before the same type of fallout happens in racing. The workplace in the 21st century — in every industry — will look, sound, and be different. Just putting new faces into existing positions will not save the industry. NASCAR needs to create new pathways, processes and policies that will allow for broader thinking and more inclusive conversation that leads to actions. The life of the sport depends upon it.

UPDATE: there was so much feedback on this post that I wrote a follow-up post the following week.