- 46.4% of the U.S. labor force
- 50.3% of management, professional and related occupations
- 15.7% of Fortune 500 corporate officers
- 13.6% of Fortune 500 board directors
- 7.9% of Fortune 500 highest titles
- 5.2% of Fortune 500 top earners
|Behind the curve|
|The auto industry lags Fortune 500 companies as a group in terms of putting women in top management positions and on corporate boards.|
|Female corporate officers|
|What they do|
|Here’s how the fields of expertise break down for Automotive News’ list of 100 leading women.|
Dynamic women change the car culture
Successful female execs are battering the barriers, earning their way into the industry's upper echelons
Click here to go to our main 100 Leading Women index
Automakers are increasing the number of female executives, and it's not just good social policy. It's good business, too: The industry desperately needs the talents of top-notch execs of either gender, and a gender-balanced company does a better job of reflecting its customer base. According to J.D. Power and Associates, women have a say in 80 percent of all automotive purchases.
We're not talking token hires anymore. Women increasingly are represented in top management and in crucial product-development and manufacturing positions. They also are more directly involved in the core activities of vehicle design, production and sales. That has led Automotive News to use different criteria for its list of 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry than it used five years ago.
The 2000 list was heavy with female executives whose expertise translated more easily to other industries - legal services, public relations and human resources, for example. In making this second list, we looked not so much at a candidate's title or pay grade as the importance of her role in designing, producing or selling vehicles.
The 2005 list includes seven CEOs, three COOs, 13 presidents, 52 vice presidents and four plant managers.
But the progress needs to be viewed in the context of some harsh reality: The auto industry still trails the Fortune 500 in the percentage of women who have reached the top floor or board of directors (see box, Page 6).
According to human resources experts and many of the executives on this list of leading women, there are several reasons:
First, many boys' club aspects of the industry remain: years of tradition that men run the show; top-down decision-making that limits the influence of those further down the ladder, where most women remain; and a continuing shortage of women on the crucial engineering side of the business.
And the stereotype of high-level jobs - the male executive spends 20 hours a day, if necessary, meeting the demands of the job, while the female spouse picks up the slack at home - is changing. But not fast enough, and not as much as in other industries.
For that reason, says Cynthia Conn Sidoti, 43, the Chrysler group's director of paint operations, the automotive industry is less attractive to ambitious, newly minted female M.B.A.'s than other industries that offer more opportunity for a balanced life.
"You have to go into the factory, spend time on the floor and understand the auto business," says Sidoti. "I don't know if a lot of women are willing to sign up for that kind of lifestyle."
Still, the era is long gone when there were double takes as a female executive entered a meeting room. And women say they're willing and eager to compete for high-level jobs on the basis of their abilities.
Mary Ann Wright, 43, Ford Motor Co.'s director of sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs, believes women no longer merit special consideration in hiring decisions.
"Women are thrown in with everybody else," Wright says. "What I don't hear in any of our conversations anymore is, 'We better have some women candidates.' There are always women candidates."
Residue of the past
Kim Harris Jones, 45, the Chrysler group's vice president of product finance, believes women are catching up to men on the corporate ladder. But years of statistical domination by males continue to make it tough for women to reach the highest ranks.
It's a numbers game, Harris Jones says. Candidates have been winnowed through the various levels of the promotion process, and there were fewer women to start with. By the time the women survivors reach the upper levels of management, there may only be a handful of qualified women competing against scores of men for the same job. Even if all the candidates are equally qualified, the odds are still in men's favor.
Says Sidoti: "There is just a long ladder, and we started below other folks. So we are still climbing the ladder."
She adds: "We won't have a woman CEO until there are women in the pipeline with manufacturing experience. There are a handful of us in the queue. I have a lot of seats left to sit in before I am considered for a role like that."
Karen Healy, 51, Delphi Corp.'s vice president of corporate affairs, marketing communications and facilities, calls the auto industry "monstrously complex." She feels that the feeder pool of women willing to go through the numerous functions is widening.
"The people sitting in the top chairs tend to have experience in engineering, finance and so on," Healy says. "There haven't been a lot of women in things like finance, engineering and manufacturing. We're getting better, but it's not fast enough."
Then again, neither General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner nor Ford Motor CEO Bill Ford has a strong manufacturing or engineering background.
Barriers still exist
Despite much diversity happy talk by many companies, women still face barriers to advancement. Among them are stereotyping, a lack of role models, inhospitable corporate cultures and exclusion from informal networks, according to a survey by Catalyst, an independent nonprofit research and advisory organization whose goal is to expand opportunities for women at work.
"We don't talk about stereotyping in the workplace, but we all embrace it," says Deborah Soon, Catalyst's vice president of marketing and executive leadership initiatives. "An assertive male leader is an up-and-comer, while a woman with similar tendencies would be a bitch."
Deb Morrissett, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Chrysler group, gets concerned any time someone mentions "the woman thing."
"One of the things that really bothers me is no one ever lets us forget that we're a woman in the automobile industry," says Morrissett, 55.
While the women polled by Catalyst saw discrimination against other women in their workplace, they did not all see discrimination against themselves. In addition, more men than women - 40 percent vs. 30 percent - felt that opportunities for women to advance had improved in the last five years.
If a female manager turns down a promotion opportunity - especially if it involves relocation - the stereotyping hardens. Yet the survey showed that both men and women equally resist placing hardship on their families, Soon says.
"We are seeing that both men and women are not willing to make the kinds of sacrifices that jeopardize things on the home front," she says. "Both are calling for better balance for work and life."
But there are some signs that men are beginning to embrace some of the supposedly feminine touches women bring to the workplace.
"Back when I started, it was at a time when women worked very hard to be like men," says Nancy Gioia, 45, director of current model vehicle quality for North America at Ford.
"You didn't have a picture of your kids on your desk, because you could be cast as 'Well, she's more interested in this or that.' Nowadays you see pictures of kids on everybody's desk. So the world has changed," Gioia says.
'Mr. Cheryl Jones'
Even if a woman comes to terms with the lifestyle and sacrifices of being a globe-trotting executive, there still is the issue of her spouse and children handling the role reversal.
"For women, you have to have a strong support system, a family who understands and supports your career," says Cheryl Jones, 42, who is on a one-year assignment to ramp up Toyota's Baja California factory after several years of running Toyota's paint shop in Georgetown, Ky.
Her husband has kept his job in Kentucky, and they see each other only two weekends a month at most.
"My husband has become accustomed to being 'Mr. Cheryl Jones,' " she said. "It is very difficult to balance that."
Nancy Fein faced the same situation when she got the plum opportunity to be general manager of Toyota Division's Kansas City region. A top regional post means the chance for far greater things. Fein could hardly turn down the job, even if it meant leaving her husband behind in Los Angeles for three years.
Fein, 51, speaks admiringly of her husband: "It takes a guy who has confidence in himself to have that kind of marriage."
She is now vice persident of Lexus customer services.
Needed: Wide experience
One key component of moving into top-level management is having experience in a wide range of disciplines. Ironically, some women have been hurt by their employer's eagerness to put good numbers on the board - promoting women rapidly within their areas of expertise but not broadening their training as they do for promising male executives. In some cases women have been collaborators, choosing the higher rank and the security of an area they know rather than taking the risks involved in branching out.
Tracey Doi, 44, CFO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., says many women are promoted quickly within their specialties, such as marketing, but don't get - or don't take - the chance for cross-training in fields such as sales, parts or product planning that could vault them into top management.
"You will see more women advance in a variety of disciplines," Doi says. "But to lead an automotive company, they have to have a pretty grounded seasoning across all operations."
Brad Marion, who is in charge of automotive recruiting for the search firm Korn/Ferry International of Los Angeles, says he has not seen a significant increase or shift of women in auto industry leadership.
"You still tend to see more women within the financial, human resources, information services, legal, sales and marketing areas more often than you do in operations or engineering," Marion says.
Able - but willing?
Finally, there's the ultimate chestnut about the ultimate job: Are women willing to make the all-consuming around-the-clock commitment needed to be CEO of a company such as General Motors?
The answer is yes - although the question is a remnant of the sexual stereotypes of the past. After all, not all men are willing to make such an all-consuming effort, either.
A Catalyst survey of 243 male and 705 female executives in various industries found that female executives are just as driven as men to reach the corner office.
The survey suggested that women often are willing to make more work-life sacrifices than men. Successful women are more likely to say they had to forgo or postpone getting married and having children in their quest to get ahead, according to the survey. (See box.) Do some women hold themselves back from a shot at the big job? Marion says he has seen that in the course of his executive searches.
Time and relocation sacrifices are often necessary to reach CEO level. Society also still holds the belief that women should bear the brunt of domestic responsibilities.
"That makes it more challenging for women to strike that balance with similar career progression and sacrifice," Marion says. "It doesn't have to do with capabilities. There are plenty of women who are fully capable of making it to CEO. But few are willing to sign on to that."
The time and energy demands of top executive positions are intense for anyone regardless of gender, says Diane Allen, 45, design manager for Nissan Design America.
"The amount of investment to make it to the top is so huge and so demanding that a lot of women don't want to do it," Allen says. "Does Carlos Ghosn ever sleep? His schedule is nonstop meetings. You have to be willing to run with the big boys. I bet many of us don't want to make that commitment."
The commitment is particularly difficult during a family's child-raising years, in light of the lingering societal expectation that a female executive play a greater role in child rearing than a spouse with a similar desire for a work-life balance. And that can alter a female executive's timetable.
In responding to Catalyst's survey, one female quipped: "I guess I've come to the conclusion that eventually I can have it all. I just can't have it all at once."
Ford hybrid director Mary Ann Wright gives NASCAR driver Kurt Busch an underhood tour of the Ford Escape Hybrid.
You can reach Mark Rechtin at email@example.com. -- Follow Mark on