Accelerate Auto celebrates first year anniversary

Not-for-profit aims to recruit more Black talent to the auto industry—while working to ensure there are brighter opportunities for them when they arrive.

Edith Pencil

Edith Pencil

More than a year after the launch of the not-for-profit organization Accelerate Auto, which strives to increase Black representation in Canada’s automotive industry, the team continues its engagement at the educational and corporate level.

So far the organization was able to grow its membership—which is key to driving its vision forward—by more than 100 per cent, according to Edith Pencil, Director of Employee Services at Performance Auto Group in Ontario. Like others in the organization, which includes members from industry associations, OEMs, dealerships, and industry suppliers, Pencil volunteers as a founding member of Accelerate Auto.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Pencil in an interview with Canadian auto dealer. “We’re pleased to see diversity in our membership. We have over 40 per cent female identifying members, and 35 per cent non-black identifying. We’ve seen a lot of interest and hand-raisers to join and support the various committees within our organization.”

During its first year, Accelerate Auto was primarily focused on raising awareness to educate people around anti-Black and systemic racism, while also aiming to boost the representation of Black people within the industry. Pencil said they engaged with thousands of students to raise awareness about the numerous career paths and opportunities that exist for them.

“We’ve partnered with some of the (high school) school boards; so we’ve had events at Peel District School Board high schools,” said Pencil. “We’ve also recently partnered with the Toronto district school board and we have an upcoming event where we’ll be speaking. They have a Black alliance group as part of their school board.”

Accelerate Auto members will be meeting with high school students to feature some of the career paths in the automotive sector. A few members from the organization will join, as well as key features from partners such as Nissan Canada. Furthermore, the Automotive Business School of Canada will join them and speak to the various courses and programs available to students in high school. 

“So again, the goal and the aim is to raise awareness on the educational aspect—the educational programs available at the post-secondary school-level—as well as the various career paths, so that Black students can really see people that look like them. This is critically important for students to be inspired,” said Pencil. 

She anticipates that membership in the organization will continue to grow. In the meantime, they already have a number of committees and partnerships, and they plan to continue to have “important conversations and discussions” with organizations in the automotive space—including on the provincial level.

Christopher Nabeta

Christopher Nabeta

Spreading the message to dealers

While work is being done at the school level, members are also in contact with dealer associations to spread awareness at the automotive retail level, according to Christopher Nabeta, another founding member of Accelerate Auto who works as the National Manager for Fleet, CPO and Remarketing at Volvo Car Canada. 

“The second area of focus, when it pertains to partnerships, has really been at the OEM level,” said Nabeta. “We’ve met with the OEM associations, the GAC (Global Automakers of Canada) and the CVMA (Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association). And we’ve also held individual conversations with several OEMs, with an effort to actually engage their dealer networks.”

However, Nabeta notes that there are more dealers than OEMs, and Accelerate Auto is made up of a group of volunteers. Their bandwidth is only so wide. 

As a result, when considering the culture that the organization is looking to develop and the initiatives it is currently working on with OEMs, Nabeta said the goal is for these elements to trickle down to the retailer level—“to better permeate within the automotive ecosystem, on the retail side of the business.”

He adds that “there is not one Black car dealer in Canada.”

Accelerate Auto wants to create a sustainable pipeline of Black talent and put in place solutions to ensure that this issue—the underrepresentation of Black people within the industry, due largely to anti-Black and systemic racism and conscious and unconscious bias—will not be repeated. 

“When we ask the question, whether it’s talking about Black representation or diverse representation, what does that really mean? The spectrum is so vast that the opportunities are specific to each market,” said Nabeta. “We’ve focused our efforts on Ontario as a microcosm to ensure that we have an incubator for the initial strategies that we’re putting in place.”

Nabeta said the engagement they have with their corporate partners at the OEM level, which at this point is the Nissan Canada Foundation, aims to have them work with the dealer development team to identify and develop Black talent, and to create solutions so those people can grow within the industry and the dealership. 

Jennifer Okoeguale

Jennifer Okoeguale

Messages and solutions

When the organization first launched, Toyota Canada’s Jennifer Okoeguale, a co-founder of Accelerate Auto, said they cast a wide net in terms of getting their message out. And although the focus was on awareness, education, and partnerships—all aspects of the organization’s guiding principles (which still stand today)—they also drilled deeper.

“We’ve been having a ton of engagement in conversations, both in and outside of the industry, at the corporate level, at the retail level, at the association level, as well as with our education partners,” said Okoeguale. “Part of that listening was really to figure out what actual challenges our industry is facing, and what solutions can we come forward with under those guiding principles.” 

This includes looking at the career opportunities that exist within Canada’s automotive industry and then amplifying them, as well as tackling and alleviating the barriers that Black students face in pursuing this type of career path. 

“So you think about education—how can we connect them with scholarships and bursaries that will help them actually pursue higher education?” said Okoeguale. “At the same time, when they’re graduating from school, what does the job market look like? How do we connect those students with internships and co-op opportunities, which are active programs that we’re currently working on?”

And then, when looking at Black representation within the workforce, including leadership positions, Accelerate Auto is also working on solutions to help bridge the gap and develop Black talent so they are better prepared to take on those leadership roles in the future.

“There are a lot of tasks on our to-do lists, and unfortunately diversity isn’t always top-of-mind for everyone,” said Okoeguale. “However, just seeing what’s happening across our industry, in terms of the innovation that’s happening and the positioning of our industry as being so pivotal throughout society, we know that there’s going to be a need for diversity as we move forward.”

She said Accelerate Auto is there to provide solutions and have those conversations, and to be a resource to try and improve the situation across the Canadian automotive industry. For more information visit:

Universus, the parent company of Canadian auto dealer, is the organization’s first official partner.

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