Continental AG is committed to its women's network
Continental’s Jeff Klei, with Janet Harden, center, and Carolyn Cerny, says support for the women’s network from the supplier’s CEO sets the stage for the rest of the company. Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
DETROIT — Continental has three simple reasons for the success of its women’s network: the passion and leadership of founders Janet Harden and Carolyn Cerny, follow-up with members to keep them engaged and support from the megasupplier’s CEO.
Harden, a North American controller, and Cerny, director of marketing for North America, launched the network last year to motivate and guide female employees in all phases of their careers and develop action plans to tackle common challenges at work.
The network, discussed last week during the Automotive News Leading Women Conference, began with a women’s forum of about 330 female employees in the Detroit area.
Then Harden got a call from corporate headquarters in Germany, asking her to join the diversity department. Harden didn’t want to leave the business side of the company, so she asked Cerny to split the diversity role with her.
Harden and Cerny developed a workshop called WOW, or Women @ Work, and held it in the U.S. and Europe.
The workshop focuses on networking with speed meetings, a Q&A with an executive panel and discussions on the foundations for success and the importance of appearance, communication and gravitas.
After that, participants discuss changes they want to see at the company. They put an action plan together and commit to working on that change after they leave the workshop. They are given an accountability partner to hold them to task, and the workshop organizers follow up with them at the three-, six- and 12-month marks.
“Follow-up is a great way to keep them engaged and keep the motivation going in order to help them,” said Harden.
Harden and Cerny measure their success by the group’s growth and the stories they hear from the women involved, Harden said.
Jeff Klei, president of Continental AG’s North American business, credits much of the initiative’s success to Harden and Cerny’s passion for and commitment to improving women’s professional experience, plus support from above. When the CEO makes it a priority, as Continental AG CEO Elmar Degenhart has, it sets the stage for the rest of the company, said Klei.
Starting the program outside the human resources department has also paid off, he said.
“Many companies look at this and say, ‘Let’s give it to HR to drive the process,'” he said. But “the people that they’re assigned to are not the people that necessarily have the passion and commitment to it. That’s why it’s so successful. They volunteered. They have the passion. Don’t make it an HR initiative. HR has to support it, but it’s individuals like Carolyn and Janet that drive it.”