During the Volkswagen Group’s annual press conference to discuss the past year’s financial performances, CEO Matthias Müller outlined a series of ways in which the company is going to transform itself in the coming years.
Perhaps aware that eight out of nine board members on the podium either side of him were - like him - middle to late-aged men in suits, and predominantly German, he issued this rallying call: “Put in simple terms, Volkswagen must become more international, more entrepreneurial, and more female - especially at the management level.”
Fair play to him for admitting the shortcomings, although nowadays you would struggle to describe his view as either forward-thinking or revolutionary. Talent must always be rewarded, of course, but I struggle to believe the world’s largest car maker truly believes it has the best global talent pool available by sticking to such a narrow recruitment profile.
Given Autocar’s work with its Great British Women initiative, it seemed fair to press him further, especially given that - as it has for many years - the event was being ‘hosted’ by an almost exclusively group of young women, whose only task appeared to be handing out press packs and microphones.
You didn’t need to be very observant to recognise that Müller’s rallying call didn’t seem to be reflected by the event his company was putting on. The phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ was muttered under many a breath.
“You are right,” he replied when pressed on the subject. “It is not a new thing for most of the world, but perhaps it is new for Volkswagen. All I can say is that six of the nine people on the board around me have been here for less than a year and a half. We are happy and willing to address the issues, and I hope that in time we will have more than one woman here.”
Undoubtedly, the dieselgate scandal is acting as a catalyst for Volkswagen to kickstart many far-reaching changes. But laudable - and headline-grabbing - though reinvention as a mobility company and electric and autonomous car leader are, I cannot accept any arguments that it has genuinely made progress before it addresses fundamental shortcomings on gender, age, nationality and ethnic diversity on its board and beyond.