Women and the Automotive Industry: Are there enough?

Back in January 2012, GM lost one of its top female executives.  Susan Docherty, former president and managing director of Chevrolet and Cadillac Europe, resigned and was replaced this year by Dr. Thomas Sedran, calling into question the role of women executive leadership in the auto industry.  Fortunately, GM is now poised to possibly promote their Chief Product Officer and Senior VP of Product Development, Mary Barra, to be their next CEO, should Daniel Akerson step down. So far his retirement is not confirmed and it may be a few years in the future, but replacing Mr. Akerson with a woman would be a smart move on GM’s part for a number of reasons.

Susan Docherty by Dave_Murr on Flickr

Women, Cars, and Leadership

Women are now purchasing 65% of new cars. In addition, women over 50 increasingly own more wealth and are buying more luxury items. The automotive industry needs to have a bigger influx of women players and thought leaders throughout their staff to meet these marketing trends. As of this writing, GM has 6 female corporate officers, Ford has 4 women officers and Chrysler has one female director, 3 manager and 3 executives. A good start, but the American automotive industry must continue to answer the call for more female executives.

How Do We Get More Women Involved?

Other countries, such as Australia, Canada, and countries in the Asian Pacific, are recognizing and addressing that need already. As the American auto industry comes back as a vital resource of its economy, the U.S. should expand programs that encourage and recognize female players in the automotive world.  To address these issues, the Women in Automotive Luncheon & Panel was organized back in April, 2013, featuring a panel led by executive from Ford, Chrysler, GM and Nissan North America.

Current Programs and Events

As you can see by the numbers above, GM’s existing initiative to promote diversity in the workplace seems to be working. On another front, BMW, in partnership with the Spartanburg Community College, has created the BMW Technical Scholars Program and is hosting a “Women in Manufacturing” event to show women they have a place in the automotive industry – and to encourage them explore their program. Elsewhere, special events, like “Heels and Wheels”, which gathers prominent women automotive journalists to discuss relevant issues, are converging more frequently.

Then there’s the muscle car event, the SEMA Mustang Build, which took place last year. Sponsored by Ford, Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), SEMA Businesswomen’s Network and Source Interlink, 40 women put their heads and hands together to customize a 2013 Ford Mustang. The event attracted lots of women and the car came out beautifully –and “supercharged.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has started to get involved. In 2009, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls, and in 2010 they launched the “Women in Transportation Initiative” (WITI). We’ll see how well the DOT can work with the auto industry to support women in the field.

The Future?

Hopefully, we’ll only have to wait a few more years to see our first female automotive CEO. In the meanwhile, for those of you with daughters and a passion for cars, maybe it’s time skip the Barbie dolls and buy her a set of tools or invite her to help you out in the garage. It’s not only a great opportunity to get closer with your child, it can be the foundation of a successful career helping to the shape future of the American auto industry.

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