When I tuned in to watch the two 45-minute online Automotive News Canada Leading Women Roundtable sessions, I expected to hear the participants discuss the headway being made regarding gender diversity, however slow.
But I wasn’t expecting to hear the very first person, Maria Soklis of Cox Canada (and now Brazil), state flat out that the gender problem in the auto industry is growing instead of shrinking, and that there’s data to back it up.
Others in her session agreed, and then Hyundai Canada CEO Don Romano weighed in — visibly distraught — saying that women won’t soon forget being objectified at car shows for the last 100 years.
“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,” he said in a story on the widening gender gap.
That’s telling it like it is.
It should be common knowledge by now within the industry that the workforce needs to reflect the population at large. And in terms of automotive retail, it needs to reflect the diversity of customers.
But from a Deloitte survey in conjunction with sibling publication Automotive News, the biggest obstacle to getting more women into the auto industry is a Catch-22: The majority (64 per cent) of women surveyed don’t consider the auto industry because they don’t see other women in the auto industry. Ergo, if it takes women in the auto industry to attract women to the auto industry, then how do you bring women into an industry with few women?
Not helping the situation is that “Lack of diversity, equity and inclusion” is a problem for only 22 per cent of men surveyed. And men, as you’re well aware, make up the vast majority of the auto-industry workforce.
My observation of the raw survey data boils down to this one oversimplification/generalization: Most women will never work in auto, and most men don’t care if they do. And for that reason, the auto industry will likely never be as great as it could be. How can it when half the population is automatically writing itself off?
In assigning the stories for the Leading Women Roundtable, I had two lengthy discussions with reporter Stephanie Wallcraft. I mostly deferred to her judgment because she’s a woman and, well, who better to understand and ask questions about the issues facing women.
It’s because of her, Managing Editor Grace Macaluso and the panel participants that, as a man, I even remotely have a clue what’s going on when it comes to the gender gap and its effects.
In my conversations with Stephanie, I bluntly admitted I was hesitant to wade into a gender conversation because I didn’t want to stick my foot in my mouth and appear out of touch or chauvinistic. I was reminded at that very moment that learning and understanding would likely end up with me eating shoe leather, but I shouldn’t worry about that if I was truly willing to listen and learn.
As the vast majority of people reading this column will undoubtedly be men, I have a request of you: Please read the stories on our website and instead of filing them away, engage the women around you in conversation. Listen to what they say, take it to heart and stick your foot in your mouth a few times trying to understand. At least we’ll all learn something about the problem.
In a male-dominated industry, it’s up to us to act and not leave it up to women to have to find their own way without help. Listen. Learn. Be a mentor. Make it a New Year’s resolution.