Industry's women urged to empower one another
From left: Karen McKemie, a Sonic Automotive vice president; Leah Curry, vice president of manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana; Maximiliane Straub, CFO of Robert Bosch; and Lisa Lunsford, CEO of GS3 Global, field questions from Jason Stein, Automotive News publisher and editor.
DETROIT — Unlikely culprits are robbing opportunity from women in the automotive industry: Themselves.
Carrie Uhl admitted she was the greatest obstacle in her career, when asked by high school students during a mentoring session at Automotive News’ Leading Women Network Conference in Dearborn, Mich., last week.
Uhl, Magna International’s procurement chief, said she had to learn that no one but herself could push her to the next level of her career.
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Elizabeth Griffith, left, director of engineering for Faurecia’s global General Motors interiors business unit, engages with Athra Azia, a Warren Mott High School student, during the mentoring session.
“As you’re analyzing your boundaries, each one can be overcome,” said Leah Curry, a vice president at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana. She said women impose false limitations on themselves, such as “I can’t work rotating shifts. I can’t move. I don’t have any support for my children. It’s too technical.”
She added, “If it’s not you, then who? We don’t have the confidence to take that step, so we have to give each other that confidence.”
The need to battle a confidence deficiency was a common thread among speakers and attendees at the conference. The solution? Women in the industry must empower one another.
“Men come to me all day long telling me how amazing they are,” Deloitte Vice Chairman Seema Pajula said of her eager male subordinates. “But I haven’t had one female. If I just focus on the people who are trying to spend time with me, I will fail.”
Leadership tips from several speakers — women’s leadership expert Connie Glaser, left: Humor can be a powerful tool; Deloitte Vice Chairman Seema Pajula, right: Be purposeful about the legacy you want to leave; Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana’s Leah Curry: Confidence can be contagious.
As a result, Pajula told the sold-out audience of 550, she has vowed to seek out women in her company with potential.
Karen McKemie, a Sonic Automotive Inc. vice president, said she has taken a more pointed approach when tapping hesitant women to lead.
When one employee declined a promotion to become a Sonic store general manager, McKemie threatened to remove the candidate from her current position.
“Challenge yourself and do the things you don’t think you can do,” McKemie said. “Don’t get nervous about thinking you can’t do it or being uncomfortable — because it’s a very natural feeling.”
McKemie encourages women in retail to boost their self-assurance by finding mentors of both sexes.
“Automotive retail is probably more male-dominated than the other parts of the automotive world,” McKemie said. “I need to know how men think, but more importantly, I need to know how men perceive me and a male mentor is essential in doing that.”
The good news is that confidence could be contagious. McKemie said once she was comfortable with her own capabilities, it was easier to help others.
“I couldn’t just muscle through and outwork everybody,” she said. “I had to partner and mentor. That was as important as getting results. It took me years to develop that confidence.”