When you hear the name Aston Martin, you probably picture an image of luxury cars and superspies. But as the company expands its client base, it is adapting its internal culture to reflect a more diverse and inclusive society. Laura Ayoade, the first-ever Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Leader at Aston Martin, has worked tirelessly to bring a fresh perspective to the automotive industry's diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Laura sat down with Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss the importance of increasing diversity and inclusion, Aston Martin’s commitment to gender diversity, and the challenge of integrating inclusion goals with a company’s commercial needs.
I’m the EDI Lead at Aston Martin. We’re based in the Midlands, and we also have a second site in St Athan, Wales. I’m the first person to hold this position — I’ve been here since August 2022. So it’s a new agenda, a new remit, and a new opportunity. We’ve had a lot of work to do, but we’ve made great progress so far.
I’ve had a varied career. I studied Dance at the undergraduate level, specialising in Hip Hop Dance. Then, I worked as a dancer in London and New York before getting a job as Head of Performing Arts at a secondary school. As I was teaching, I also studied for several Master’s degrees — a double MA in Performance Research and one in law, both with a focus on racial justice. From there, I moved into corporate and social responsibility, which included a remit of well-being and diversity and inclusion with Unipart Group. I was able to move on to focus solely on diversity and inclusion with Business in the Community, which saw me take my skills to the next level. When the opportunity at Aston Martin came up, I felt I could make an impact. So I took the leap, and I’ve never looked back.
There are two sides to it. The first is the admin work: launching new policies, reviewing existing practices, and working on targets with the board. Then there is the human side: building awareness and working with our inclusion network. All the time, there is so much happening, and we’ve been given a lot of space to grow.
I’m really excited about Pride! We have a great LGBTQ+ network with some amazing members. We’ve partnered with other organisations in the space, such as Racing Pride. We’ve had some really moving moments: after Trans Day of Visibility, two of our colleagues felt comfortable enough to come out at work, and the response from their colleagues has been so supportive.
At Aston Martin, we face the same challenges as any other organisation. But it’s important to remember that everyone is moving at their own speed. We’re facing similar issues to other companies in the automotive sector: the industry is still heavily male, so we’re working to increase gender diversity. We need to think beyond traditional norms and encourage women and trans people to consider careers in the sector. Aston Martin has made a public commitment to achieve a 30% female leadership team by 2030. There are two components to that drive: first, increasing recruitment by encouraging more female applicants; and second, improving our retention by supporting our incredible staff and providing them with opportunities.
The industry is still heavily male, so we’re working to increase gender diversity. We need to think beyond traditional norms and encourage women and trans people to consider careers in the sector.
Our organisation needs to reflect our audience. Traditionally, our brand has been aimed toward a white, male customer; when people see our cars, the first thing they usually think about is James Bond. But now things are starting to change. We’re very proud of that legacy, but we also need to look forward; that Bond image was created in a different time, and we need to challenge the misogyny that is associated with it. As our client profile continues to change, our internal makeup needs to reflect that, too.
Our network is open to everyone. We have members in all departments across the organisation where they can build friendships and working relationships with their teammates. It allows us to get our message out across the whole company. For example, when the earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, we had a lot of employees who wanted to do something. So they banded together, holding a bake sale that raised over £4,000. Though our brand is huge, our business is actually quite small: we only have about 2,500 employees. Our inclusion network allows us to reach everyone, from a grassroots level to an executive capacity.
It’s a huge challenge. We’ve found the office is the easiest space to engage, but the manufacturing floor is more difficult. People’s workdays and schedules look very different, so we must work hard to boost engagement. We’re running employee-led events, and we’re also launching a new EDI and Values training for all members of staff.
Part of it comes down to the divide between office and floor staff. If you work in the office, you have some flexibility with your schedule — but the manufacturing staff don’t have that same privilege. The same demographic has traditionally dominated the automotive industry, so we must challenge assumptions. It needs to be engaging for employees: you need to think about their perspective and how inclusion can help them with their work.
It’s about building trust. You need to let people know they can come to you with anything. It’s not just about solving problems: sometimes, people need to share the positives, too! Learn to listen; people aren’t always looking for an answer, they also need to know you understand them. You can’t do everything, but you can at least leave things better than you found them.