EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth 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. And, you can read previously published digital versions of the stories here.
Men who support the career advancement of women must be recruited in the campaign to bolster female ranks within Canada’s auto industry, according to panelists on Automotive News Canada’s Leading Women Roundtable.
Maria Soklis, president of Cox Automotive Canada and Brazil, said the male mentors who offered her guidance and support early in her career were instrumental in keeping her engaged in the industry, especially as she progressed into executive positions.
“I really needed some strong mentors in order for me even to find the courage to take that step,” Soklis said. “I couldn’t have done it without these male counterparts, really good role models [with] good collaboration saying: ‘It doesn’t matter if you didn’t come from automotive ... You have the work ethic, you can execute well, and we’re here to support you.’ ”
With women making up only 25 per cent of the Canadian automotive industry’s workforce, fostering a culture that creates equal advancement opportunities can only succeed when men play an active role, said Lorrie King, a partner at Deloitte Canada.
“The men at the top have to acknowledge the issue, for starters, and then they have to demonstrate a strong commitment for change. Part of that commitment for change is having mentorship and sponsorship programs that really do start at the top of the organization, because then it will permeate through.
“If it’s not there at the top, it’s not going to change that culture.”
Men can signal their support of women as they progress in their careers by being aware of the preconceptions that men bring to their actions and being overtly receptive to female participation, Soklis said.
“I remember one incident in Germany where everybody was walking in and handing me their coats, only to find out that I was overlooking their career path. Just having a seat at the table, being interested in what my opinion is even if it’s different ... that, for me, is critical in me staying and doing as well as I have in the industry.”