The conversation in the industry has been focused on disruptive technology, but there’s one trend that has the potential to massively affect our ability to innovate and meet the demands of our business as a whole — and it revolves around our talent. With the baby boomer generation nearing retirement, it’s estimated that there will be a shortage of skilled labor to the tune of 2 million jobs by 2025. As you can imagine, this dramatically impacts our ability to meet the evolving needs of our customers. While some might argue that technology will help address that shortage, the fact remains that we still need talented individuals to help build that technology.
So where do you find such talent? I — and all those who attended the Leading Women Conference — might make a suggestion: women.
It’s no secret that the automotive industry has been an unwelcoming place for women. Automotive News’ Project XX found that 65 percent of women have experienced unwanted sexual advances while on the job. The culture of the auto industry can make it difficult for women to stay; dealerships see a 96 percent turnover rate for women. When women do stick it out, they have to fight for leadership positions (a trend not limited to the auto industry). In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, she shares how only 5 percent of CEOs in the top 500 S&P companies are women, and how the percent of women in leadership has remained largely stagnant over the last 10 or so years. While at the conference, Jeff Kiel of Continental Automotive said, “We have an obligation to change the culture to meet the changing needs of the auto industry.” So how do we make the automotive industry a welcoming and desired place for women?
As Tonie Leatherberry so hilariously put it, “Be Obi-Wan Kenobi” in your workplace. I’ve said over and over that mentorship is key to supporting the growth of anyone’s career (in fact, Women in Automotive has a mentorship program for women in the industry), but we shouldn’t forget about sponsorship. Mentorship is usually initiated by the mentee and involves regular meetings and opportunities to discuss everyday situations and learn from their mentor. Sponsorship lies more in the hands of the sponsor. If you’re in a leadership position, identify women in your organization that have potential and find opportunities to nominate them for projects, share their work with other leaders, or provide constructive feedback.
Sometimes we have to actively work against the status quo or widely known “scripts” to make change. Take a look at the traditions or culture around you and ask yourself if it’s inclusive. Michelle Primm of Cascade Auto Group wants everyone to know that dealership succession doesn’t have to be father to son, it can be father to daughter (and hopefully in the future, mother to daughter). According to Automotive News, 57 percent of women say they’ve been excluded from social/networking events because of their gender. Think of gender-neutral ways to network or be social; choose to grab dinner, or volunteer in your local communities. Provide flexibility in your workplace so women who are caretakers can balance their careers and their families. Tell women in other industries about the great opportunities a career in automotive provides, and help them find their place within it.
Throughout the conference, I met a handful of men and they all shared the same sentiment: “I walked in and felt so out of place! There were so many women!” The women around me all responded in the same way: “Well, now you know what it’s like to be a woman in the auto industry!” For many of these men, it caused them to think about how they could be more inclusive and empathize with the struggles a woman might face in being a minority. While being the only woman in the room isn’t necessarily a barrier to a woman’s ability to advance in her career, it certainly doesn’t work in our favor when we attempt to attract talent to the industry. We need more men who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and learn more about how they can support women — and do so actively in their day-to-day jobs. If you’re a man — especially in a leadership role— look for ways to reach across and support women in their careers and lend your support to initiatives focused on supporting women.
While supporting women is definitely the “right thing to do,” it’s becoming more and more essential for the future success of our industry. I’m proud to be a part of an industry and company that is fighting to be more inclusive of women and find ways to support their careers. Let’s continue to push forward, for the sake of our future.