Black is the new Black

February 4, 2021

Emiliano Void

Accelerate Auto was born to combat systemic and anti-Black racism in Canada’s auto industry. Emiliano Void and a powerful group of Black professionals are leading the charge.

Editor’s note: As a member of Accelerate Auto, my perspective on the Black experience in Canada — and automotive — has been changed by what I’ve heard from the other founders. Now, it’s time to tell that story.

Christina Morris

Race and skin colour are topics that rarely surface during workplace conversations — and certainly not in automotive. They are near-taboo topics that most people deftly avoid discussing. For many people, it just makes them uncomfortable.

But that has to change.

Avoiding these topics has led to a situation where Black people are underrepresented in all sectors of the automotive industry: at dealerships, OEMs, suppliers, the media, and in the aftermarket — and at all levels, from entry-level to the C-suite. Any impartial observer would have to conclude that the forces of systemic and anti-Black racism are at least partly to blame for this deficit in Black representation.

“Across Canada’s automotive industry, there are thousands of car dealers and aftermarket companies, more than 20 vehicle manufacturers, and there are still precious few Black people in ownership or senior leadership positions. It’s time to change that,” said Emiliano Void, the Chair of Accelerate Auto, a newly-founded not-for-profit association made up mostly of Black professionals from across all sectors of automotive who have vowed to take up this cause and make a difference.

“There is no question that systemic racism has stacked the deck disproportionately in favour of one way, and disproportionately away from Black people in automotive,” said Void, who was born and raised in Montreal, Que. and who has worked for Cox Automotive on both sides of the border for five years.

He helped lead an initiative in his own organization, Cox Automotive Canada, that led to the creation of their own Black Employee Network. Soon after, Maria Soklis, President of Cox Automotive Canada, became the first CEO in the automotive industry to sign the Black North Initiative’s CEO Pledge.

Among other items, the CEO Pledge says: “We acknowledge the existence of anti-Black systemic racism and its impact on Canada’s 1,198,540 Black citizens… and the need to create opportunities within our companies for Black people. The persistent inequities across our country underscore our urgent, national need to address and alleviate racial, ethnic, and other tensions and to promote the elimination of anti-Black systemic racism wherever it exists.”

Soklis has been a powerful advocate for change, and has called on others in the auto industry to step forward too. In fact, it was Soklis who urged Emiliano Void to reach out to Canadian auto dealer to discuss ways to create a broader industry-wide initiative that led to the creation of Accelerate Auto.

“Across Canada’s automotive industry, there are thousands of car dealers and aftermarket companies, more than 20 vehicle manufacturers, and there are still precious few Black people in ownership or senior leadership positions. It’s time to change that.” — Emiliano Void, Chair of Accelerate Auto, National Operations Manager,

Oumar Dicko

Cox Automotive Canada

These changes at the most senior ranks of organizations signal the start of a shift in corporate cultures across North America and the globe, where individuals and companies are opening their eyes to injustices and imbalances, and are taking a closer look at their own role and what they can do about it.

“I’m no crusading activist, but I had to get involved and wanted to start with my industry,” said Void.

Void is not alone. The other founding members of Accelerate Auto, while all having achieved success in the auto industry, recognize it has not been easy, and that the industry has not done enough to recruit, develop, and promote Black talent.

“That’s what we are hoping to change,” said Christina Morris, a founding member and the Manager of Product Training at Subaru Canada. “Accelerate Auto will be a catalyst for change, and will collaborate with schools and colleges, industry associations, OEMs and dealerships, suppliers, and other professional groups. Together, we will help make the auto industry an example of how to recruit, retain, and develop Black professionals — and our industry and our customers will benefit from this diversity.”

The founding members of Accelerate Auto have been meeting for several months, working out the goals and ambitions of the organization, and they set it up as a not-for-profit. The group has representation from dealerships, OEMs, industry associations, suppliers, and the media. And it has reached out to key industry players to bring them into the loop, and have so far received a positive response.

“The people and organizations we’ve approached have been open to hearing our story, and to joining the effort to make a positive change,” said founding member Oumar Dicko, Chief Economist with the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association. “The time for action is now as COVID-19 exacerbated the deep disparities among communities in Canada. With one in seven jobs in Canada connected to automotive, there are lots of opportunities and we want to see Black people fully participate in our industry and in the economic opportunities it provides.”

Edith Pencil

Opportunity and income gap

While Accelerate Auto will help open doors for more Black employment in the industry (the unemployment rate for Black Canadians is around 12 per cent, while the average for non-Blacks is 5 per cent) the group also wants to see the income gap closed.

A Conference Board of Canada study found that university-educated Canadians who identified as Black earned about 80.4 cents for every dollar earned by their Caucasian peers.

A CTV News report also found that first-generation Black Canadians make an average income of nearly $37,000 compared to an average income of $50,000 for new immigrants who are not members of a visible minority.

“Some people we’ve met with have asked why we aren’t broadening the scope of Accelerate Auto to also include other minorities, or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour),” said Emiliano Void. “While we fully support the struggles of other groups, and hope the doors we open will help them too, we are laser-focused on the experience of Black people in our industry.”

Void said the group had lengthy discussions on the topic of a broader movement, but were unanimous in deciding it wasn’t appropriate for this group to claim to understand or represent the needs of other minority groups, and in particular the various Indigenous communities across Canada.

“It would dilute our efforts to be engulfed by a broader diversity movement. The Black experience in North America — and in Canada — is unique and something members of Accelerate Auto are comfortable speaking to with clarity and with lived experience.”

Jennifer Okoeguale

What are the goals?

The organization is attacking the issue on a number of fronts. For starters, the group is going to make the case for young Black people that the automotive industry represents a great career option, and will be taking that message to schools and communities across Canada, starting in the Greater Toronto Area (Ontario) and Montreal (Quebec) with the largest Black populations (and where most of the OEMs are located).

The group has also reached out to educational institutions, like the Automotive Business School of Canada, and is looking for supporters to fund scholarships for Black students in the undergraduate and Canadian Dealer Academy programs.

The group is also meeting with industry associations and leaders across the industry to spell out ways they can work with Accelerate Auto, and advising them on how they can undertake their own initiatives to make a difference. For example, most organizations have little or no representation of Black people in their marketing or on their websites.

“This is really low-hanging fruit that can be addressed easily and immediately,” said Jennifer Okoeguale, Corporate Special Events, Public Relations at Toyota Canada, and a founding member of Accelerate Auto. “If you want to recruit more Black people to your company, it’s helpful if they see themselves reflected in your marketing and recruitment efforts.”

“One way we can drive meaningful change is by taking a step back to reevaluate our recruitment and hiring practices. Unconscious bias is real, and is undoubtedly impacting the recruitment, development and promotion of Blacks in our industry.” — Edith Pencil, Director of Employee Services at Performance Auto Group

The organization is also looking to develop racial sensitivity training to help organizations overcome unconscious bias when hiring and recruiting candidates.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian studies (Oreopolous in 2011 and Eid 2012) used fictitious resumes and found that “racialized” candidates were significantly less likely to be interviewed than other candidates with the same levels of qualification and equivalent experience.

It’s findings like these that help showcase why the lack of progress has been systematic and built into company cultures for generations.

“One way we can drive meaningful change is by taking a step back to reevaluate our recruitment and hiring practices” said Edith Pencil, Director of Employee Services at Performance Auto Group. “Unconscious bias is real, and is undoubtedly impacting the recruitment, development and promotion of Blacks in our industry.”

The association has set up a LinkedIn page to help spread the word and to create a network of Black professionals in automotive to support mentoring and other initiatives. The association is currently building its website: and expects to formally launch it in February 2021.

In Phase 1, the organization will also be reaching out to industry partners to have a broader conversation about ways they can work together, and bring about meaningful change.

To get involved, or for more information, email:

Accelerate Auto Founding Members


Christina Morris, Manager Product Training, Subaru Canada

Christopher Nabeta, National Manager, Fleet, CPO and Remarketing at Volvo Car Canada

Jennifer Okoeguale, Corporate Special Events, Public Relations at Toyota Canada Inc.

Joyce Tshiamala, District Manager, Customer Experience, Hyundai Canada


Nasir Kamrudin, General Manager at Surrey Honda

Edith Pencil, Director of Employee Services, Performance Auto Group

Industry Associations

Oumar Dicko, Chief Economist, Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA)

Larissa Karimwabo, Senior Manager, Events & Programs at Automotive Industries Association (AIA) of Canada

Industry Suppliers

Jerry Chinner, Vice President, Business Development, SCI

Gilles Makanda, Account Manager, Universus Media

Todd Phillips, Editorial Director, Canadian auto dealer (Vice-Chair)

Pako Tshiamala, Lead Media Solutions, Cox Automotive Canada

Emiliano Void, National Operations Manager, Cox Automotive Canada (Chair)

About Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips is the editorial director of Universus Media Group Inc. and the editor of Canadian auto dealer magazine. Todd can be reached at

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