EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of seven stories devoted to leading women in the auto industry. The series originally ran in the December 2020 print edition of Automotive News Canada. You can watch the pair of roundtable discussions here.
At a time when calls for diversity, equity and inclusion are building around the globe, the gender gap in the auto industry appears to be widening, said panelists during Automotive News Canada’s second annual Leading Women Roundtable.
“I would like to say that there’s been a tremendous amount of progress,” said Maria Soklis, president of Cox Automotive Canada and Brazil. “In fact, there is research that supports that a lot of women who are
in the industry actually feel that the industry has regressed.”
Soklis was among a group of automotive manufacturing and retail executives who participated in two 45-minute online discussions in December that focused on women in the auto industry.
Soklis’s concerns were echoed by Shelley Fellows, chair of Automate Canada, an association representing Canadian companies involved in industrial automation. She also is a former vice-president of Windsor, Ont.-based AIS Technologies Group.
“We founded our company back in 1994 [and] saw some of the very focused efforts by the large automotive manufacturers to enforce diversity upon their supply chain,” Fellows said. “Those efforts coming from the top, the customer, to the supply chain have backed down.
“We’ve also seen a reduction of women in that automotive work force and in that manufacturing work force. It’s really unfortunate.”
NO BALANCE, NO HOPE
According to research conducted by financial-services company Deloitte in partnership with sib-
ling publication Automotive News, the most prominent factors pushing women out of the industry are a lack of work-life balance and a perception that women are overlooked for advancement. The survey, conducted in September, sought input from 700 female and male respondents in Canada and the United States.
Statistics Canada’s most recent survey of household time use, conducted in 2015, found that on a daily basis women spend 54 minutes more than men doing housework, perform 19.4 per cent more child care duties and spend three times more hours caring for adult family members or friends.
These additional responsibilities are even more challenging for women to balance when they lack flexible working schedules — a key factor that pushes them into industries where those supports are present, the Deloitte study said.
“It’s important from an organizational standpoint to just let women know that they can reach out to other women that are on their team, or other men, and they have that support,” Andria Zanchin, executive vice-president of Ontario-based Zanchin Automotive Group, told the retail roundtable.
The Deloitte research also found that while 91 per cent of the women surveyed cited an industry bias toward men for promotion into leadership, only 47 per cent of men agreed this was a problem.
Meanwhile, nearly half of the women surveyed cited the lack of fair job advancement opportunities as one of three key reasons that they would leave the industry if they would restart their careers.
LOSS OF TALENT
Health care and technology were named as desirable alternatives because they were perceived as leading sectors for attracting and retaining a diverse work force.
“If a young woman entering the work force looks at an industry that doesn’t appear to be supporting the advancement of women, then they choose to go elsewhere,” said Lorrie King, a partner at Deloitte Canada. “If we think about the amount of top-level talent that is being lost to those two industries, considering how much
the auto industry is moving toward advanced technologies, we are putting ourselves at a huge deficit.”
Hyundai Canada CEO Don Romano, who participated in the automaker/supplier roundtable, took the industry to task for its long history of objectifying women.
“Think about a hundred years of auto shows and women dressed in scantily clad outfits. We have to come to grips with the fact that we do not have a good reputation that entices female applicants to come over to the car business.”