Leading the effort to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity is exactly what Dawn Harris, Senior Director of Multicultural Development, does for NASCAR.
BGN had the opportunity to sit down with Dawn Harris during Daytona 500 weekend to discuss not only her role in NASCAR, but how the sport is changing and what she’s trying to do to create a more inclusive space for fans.
When people think of NASCAR, it’s thought out as a white male sport. What are you doing to change that?
A lot of what we’ve done and what we continue to do is exposure and engagement. Many times people don’t know something or don’t see something, they just infer or hear from other people what they think it’s like. So a big platform of what our group does is called the NASCAR Opinion Leader Initiative, where we actually work with groups and organizations across the country and bring them to a race. Let them see what happens at the track. Introduce them to different diverse people and women who have interesting jobs across the sport to really debunk the perception.
I would say it’s more perception than reality. We are a very diverse sport. We have a lot of people of color, a lot of women, and people across all socioeconomic backgrounds. We really work consistently to make sure all elements of the sport are exposed.
There’s also a great deal of diversity internally with NASCAR with the staff. Can you tell me more about that?
We have a few initiatives that I’m very proud of that are run through our department. So for example, we have the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program. 2020 will be the 20th year of that program, which is easy for me to remember now. But over those years, we’ve literally brought hundreds of college students; diverse college students into our industry, most of whom had no knowledge of NASCAR, really didn’t understand the sport, and we really use that as a platform to introduce the sport to a potential workforce. As a result of that internship program, we have people in NASCAR now all the way up through managing director positions across competition, marketing communications. So it’s really been a great way for us to onboard diverse students to get the opportunity to learn about NASCAR through their internship program, network, build connections, and parlay that into a career.
That’s probably the most significant ongoing initiative that we do. We also have training annually for employees around unconscious bias. And we do a series that is called the Heritage History Series to educate all of our employees about diversity and inclusion within our sport, and really introduce and help to inspire our workforce in terms of what has been done historically and what’s possible in the future.
Can you share more about the unconscious bias program?
That is really a third-party administered training that we do to introduce the concept to our employees and to teach our employees how to open up their unconscious mind about the contributions that different groups can make. And it’s not just about ethnicity; it’s age, geography, and gender. So we really work to provide our employees the tools to understand that unconscious bias is a real thing. We all have it, but how to manage that to make sure we’re engaging employees who can contribute who happen to perhaps be different from yourself.
What led you to the NASCAR company?
I relocated from Chicago to Daytona Beach. I have a background in marketing. And I was exploring different career opportunities in this market. NASCAR, of course, is big here. And once I did some additional research, I found out that there was a department that was specifically focused on engaging diverse communities marketing to different communities. I felt like that would be a great way for me to contribute to the sport from a marketing background. I candidly did not know much about the sport when I came here, but you can learn. I embraced and learned about the sport and have come to love it, but have really been able to take my marketing background and marketing expertise towards the goal of bringing more diverse communities into the sport.
What advice would you give to a person of color of flirting with the idea of joining NASCAR?
Go ahead and go for it. I would say be open-minded. Don’t be afraid to be a pioneer. Someone has to go first, you know. I think people should also experience the sport for themselves, too. Not to take someone else’s opinion or experience, but to make it your own. I would say like any other opportunity, work hard, learn, network, and apply your best self. Expanding beyond the traditional stick and ball sports is important if you are interested in sports as a career, and I think NASCAR is a great platform to do that and to grow and have a successful career.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.