Automotive manufacturers are doing a better job of providing a work-life balance to attract younger women — the so-called millennials — but have to continue marketing themselves as workplace destinations to address the gender imbalance on the factory floor, according to four women executives in the industry.
Speaking at the Automotive News Canada Leading Women Roundtable Oct. 26, Erin Buchanan, general manager of manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, said automakers have gone to great lengths to create clean, bright assembly plants that employ high-tech manufacturing techniques.
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“It is state of the art, fast-paced, exciting manufacturing, and it’s becoming much more inclusive,” she said. “I think we need to do a much better job of continuing to market that side of it.”
Susan Kenny, engine plant manager at Honda Canada Manufacturing, said her company invites women into the plant in a bid to convince them manufacturing “is not scary” and it’s something that women can do.
“We recognize that maybe some of the reasons why women didn’t want to come to manufacturing is because of that fear of the environment and the perception it’s dirty and you need to be physically strong to do the work,” she said. “We’ve been able to increase the number of women in production from about 11 per cent to 30 per cent.”
Jeanette Wiltshire, manager of retail marketing and programs at Hyundai Auto Canada, which doesn’t have a manufacturing plant in Canada, said the company still had trouble recruiting women. But the creation of a group she calls Women at HAC (Hyundai Auto Canada), as well as a top-down directive from CEO Don Romano, has seen efforts to reach out to schools to promote the company as a destination pay off.
“Ever since it started in 2018, we’ve actually seen a 40 per cent increase in female managers at Hyundai Auto Canada,” she said. “And one of the things I am so happy about with Women at HAC is that it’s not only women that have joined this group, but we also have male allies, which I think is so critical when it comes to the auto industry.”
Lauren Tedesco, vice-president of learning and development at the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, said much of the same effort is underway throughout the automotive supply chain.
She said Tier 1 suppliers such as Martinrea International and Magma International have done excellent work through hiring diversity managers, and now the challenge is convincing smaller suppliers of the benefits of diversity.
“A lot of the conversations that we’re having are how do we get those best practices to trickle down through the supply chain,” she said. “The conversations we’re having are really focused on broadening that, because I think when you have the broadest pool of talent possible you have the best workforce possible.”