EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part three of three in a series examining why more women aren't involved in Canada's auto industry. For more from this series, click here.
TORONTO — A panel of 15 female auto executives and officials said attracting more women to sales, service, engineering and other areas means battling auto industry stigmas as well as gender biases.
Speaking at the Automotive News Canada Leading Women Panel in Toronto, Sherryl Petricevic, marketing manager at ESCRYPT, said the industry should re-examine how it markets and messages itself to the public. She said the term “automotive industry” often brings to mind images of strikes and dirty factories rather than the hightech sector it is becoming, thus limiting the number of people who might be interested in it.
“Is automotive really even what we’re moving to, or is it mobility?”
Many of the panelists described difficult experiences in the male-dominated auto industry, such as being the only woman in a boardroom or classroom and being subjected to sexist remarks. They said attracting more women to the industry is crucial to its viability and companies’ long-term profitability. And many expressed optimism that change is afoot as more women enter positions of power.
ON THE AUTO INDUSTRY’S MALE-DOMINATED CULTURE
Shelley Fellows, vice-president of communications, AIS Technologies Group: “It was and still is completely normal for me to walk into a meeting, walk into a conference or a seminar, and I’ll be the only woman in the room. There are some side benefits to that. You get noticed, people allow you to have a voice at the table. There’s no lineups for the restroom. But the downside is we have to fight every single day to be acknowledged for our capabilities, our knowledge.”
Henna Agha, senior sector adviser at the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade: “I left auto. I have three children, and at a certain point, working in a male-only industry was tough because I was the only one taking [maternity] leaves. It’s not culturally encouraged for men, even though it’s their legal right to take a paternity leave. Men who took paternity leaves were moved to the outer edges of the office, where there’s less light and no work. Not constructive dismissal, but not encouraging them, because they’re being punished for being on paternity leave.”
ON GETTING MORE GIRLS INTERESTED IN STEM AND AUTOMOTIVE CAREERS
Mona Eghanian, automotive and mobility senior manager, Ontario Centres of Excellence: “It starts earlier than school. Even when kids are young, what types of toys kids play with shapes the kinds of things they’re interested in.”
Manon Messier, mergers and acquisitions associate, Dealer Solutions: “We need to reach out to the parents. The parents need to coach their kids and we need to coach the parents to open the eyes of their kids more on what is available. We are surrounded by families around us. I am surrounded by 800 dealerships around me [in Quebec]. Why not reach out to them and tell them that we need parents to reach out to their children and be open to automotive opportunities?”
Maria Soklis, president, Cox Automotive Canada: “I think it’s really important that the education system start enforcing nontraditional roles with the books, with the material that they’re reading. And I think it’s important that the education system starts very, very young in helping socialize young girls and boys that you don’t have to grow up in a traditional role socially or academically.”
Cara Clairman, CEO, Plug ’N Drive: “We usually start talking to kids about their career opportunities around Grade 12. It’s too late. A lot of those girls are out of it already because they’re not doing science.”
Diane Wang, independent adviser, SAIC Ventures: “I was one of two female executives maybe among 10 males. So, I work with the female executive very well, and she was some kind of mentor for me. That’s happened for me a lot, because a lot of times, you just need somebody to encourage you.”
Ikjot Saini, president, Women in Cybersecurity, University of Windsor: “I didn’t have any role models. I was always choosing these kinds of topics that I’m working on, and I was always discouraged from doing it. Even my profs used to say, ‘You’ll be the only [woman] in the class, are you OK with that?’ I would say, ‘I really want to do it, even if I’m the only one in the class, I don’t mind it.’ That’s been the struggle in academia. There is no connection between education and industry, so [women] don’t even know if they do this then they can do that.”