Mazda's 35% goal for female bosses is pie in the sky

OPINION
 

Mazda Motor Corp. CEO Mark Fields wants up to 35 percent of Mazda's managers around the world to be women within 10 years. It's a noble goal, but there is no chance Mazda execs can make it happen. And they must be careful not to let pursuing that goal interfere with the larger issues of sharpening the company's marketing vision, improving its product lineup and fulfilling its role within the Ford Motor Co. stable of brands.

The industry needs more female managers and executives. Diversity is good, but even if Fields has his managers pay special attention to identifying and promoting capable women, there are serious stumbling blocks.

1. The majority of Mazda's managers likely are in Japan. And that country's cultural practices tend to discourage diversity. Shuri Fukunaga, head of corporate relations for Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and arguably the highest ranking woman at a Japanese carmaker, described the impediments as a concrete ceiling.

2. Managers also must be identified, trained and nurtured. Ten years isn't enough time to fill an empty pipeline.

3. Getting to 35 percent women would mean expanding the managerial corps by more than half, sacking more than a third of the current managers or some combination of the two - not likely in 10 years.

It's telling that even after the short-lived diversity initiatives of departed CEO Jacques Nasser, only 7.4 percent of Ford Motor Co. managers are women, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit women's advocacy organization in New York. That's well below the average 11 percent for Fortune 500 companies and even trails General Motors, where about 9.1 percent of managers are women.

Mazda - and every other automaker and supplier - ought to develop more female managers. But it may be easier to get employees to buy into the campaign with a more realistic goal. If Mazda shoots for - and hits -20 percent, it would be an overwhelming success at more than twice the industry norm. Setting a goal that everyone knows is unattainable can make the process seem like tilting at windmills.

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