Bentley Motors: Driving Community Through Culture

A few days of track driving and a conversation with Bentley’s Man-Bat himself, Wayne Bruce.

Crewe, the home of Bentley Motors, is idyllic in many ways. It’s leafy and green, with gently rolling hills, picturesque country lanes and lots of opportunity to get out into nature, relax, recharge and be at one with British rural life. What it is not, is particularly diverse. Less than 5% of Crewe’s inhabitants are anything other than white caucasian.

Then again, to speak of Bentley is to conjure images of stately homes, cashmere knits and (post-drive) a nice Macallan –  the preserves of Britain’s wealthiest echelon, which is stuffed to the brim with ageing white men – so the location of its headquarters isn’t hugely surprising. 

What was a revelation to me, though, is that this vision that most of us have of the Bentley customer, isn’t exactly on the money. A few weeks ago, I travelled up to Cheshire to visit Bentley with a more motley crew of women than traditional Crewe has likely experienced. All of us different ages, from different backgrounds, with different professional pursuits, with one common goal, to drive Bentleys how they were intended to be experienced – in comfort, style and at speed. While there, I learned that Bentley aims for a consumer base that is anything but the narrow picture we’d arrived with.

Under the direction of Wayne Bruce, Bentley’s Chief of Communications and D&I Officer, the brand has shifted gears to become a beacon of diversity and inclusion in the automotive industry. I chatted to Bruce about the ways Bentley is navigating this transformative journey and changing perceptions along the way.

A Diverse Customer Base

To some degree, even the fact that I found myself lolling around The Mews with such a varied assortment of other women, swapping cocktails, track time and mad career stories (not in that order) as we sampled various incarnations of Bentley’s remaining W12 engines, is evidence enough that this is a brand doing things a little bit differently. Beyond that, spending time with Bentley’s resident Man-Bat – Wayne Bruce – is all the confirmation anyone needs that the marque is making an important and lasting commitment to progress.

Bentley’s customer base has always been more diverse than people realise, a fact that becomes evident at events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where the various car tribes come together in one place. “The first thing that struck me when I joined Bentley was how difficult it was to say that’s the Bentley customer, because they’re so diverse,” Bruce explains. Unlike other luxury car brands where customer demographics are more predictable, Bentley’s clientele is varied and includes a higher proportion of women who not only drive, but also purchase these luxury vehicles. 

Community Through Culture

This diversity is not just a byproduct of Bentley’s high-performance, daily-driver cars but also a reflection of the company’s commitment to evolving its internal culture along with its customers. In November 2020, Bentley launched its Beyond 100 strategy, aiming to become the most diverse and inclusive luxury car company. “People buy into brands they perceive share their values,” Bruce notes.

Beyond sustainability measures, a new journey began with a request from the local Crewe council for support with a Pride event. As Crewe’s  largest employer, the company felt a responsibility to support the local community. This led to the creation of Bentley’s first colleague network, Be Proud, and the launch of a rainbow-wrapped car that became a symbol of the company’s commitment to inclusion.

Today, Bentley has five colleague networks with around 600 active participants. The largest network focuses on mental health and neurodiversity, while the second largest is dedicated to gender issues, largely supporting female employees. These networks meet regularly, host talks, and foster a culture of openness and support.

“It makes perfect business sense,” says Bruce. “To help speed up the dramatic change we need at Bentley, we have to have diversity of thought and to attract new skills.”

Bentley’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are reflected in both internal policies and external marketing strategies. The company has moved away from traditional advertising tropes, instead showcasing a broader representation of individuals. This change is part of a larger mission to inform, improve, and include, ensuring that all employees feel a sense of belonging.

Can you imagine the Bentley of 50 years ago hosting a Pride event with drag queen Cheddar Gorgeous wafting around in all her regalia? “Eight feet tall, in shimmering silver with a massive top hat, she walked across the site on a beautiful summer’s day,” remembers Bruce. And here we are, with a powerful statement about how far Bentley has come. 

Empowering Women

When it comes to women, Bentley’s commitment appears to go quite far beyond the typical virtue signalling you see elsewhere. The company carefully tracks diversity metrics, focusing on the percentage of women in leadership roles and overall inclusion within the organisation.

The pledge to promote women is evident in its recruitment and retention strategies. The company’s annual intake of young talent is nearly 50% female, and Bentley is actively tracking and addressing the reasons why women leave the company, too. 

Looking Forward

Bentley’s marketing strategies have also evolved to reflect its inclusive values. Campaigns like “How Do You Bentley” move into a lifestyle space, beyond typical luxury car advertising.  The effort, in theory, isn’t so much about selling cars, as it is about building a community where everyone feels they belong. “We’ve moved away from the traditional white, beautiful woman and white, beautiful man in our advertising. It’s not tick boxing, it’s the start of a whole new movement,” Bruce explains.

As Bentley continues to drive forward with its diversity and inclusion initiatives, the company sets a powerful example for the automotive industry. The brand’s evolution is not just about cars; it’s about redefining what it means to be part of a driving family, making it clear that luxury and inclusion can go hand in hand.

Words: Natasha Bird

Photography: Amy Shore

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