100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry
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To attract women, industry must change recruiting methods


Automotive News -- September 13, 2010 - 12:01 am ET
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DETROIT — Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar Corp., wanted to add female managers to increase the powertrain supplier's diversity. The surprise came when she examined the number of women available for management positions."There's just so few women in our company to begin with," she said — fewer than 20 percent of Linamar's 11,000 employees and 15 to 18 percent of its management.

Said Hasenfratz: "It doesn't come naturally, even at my company — and I'm the CEO."

Increasing the number of women in the auto industry requires some new approaches to recruiting, said participants at a roundtable of some of the 100 Leading Women.

One key is portraying fields such as powertrain engineering as cool, they said."If you watch TV, you see a lot of good-looking women dating good-looking guys in the law firms and hospitals. But I can't think of the last time an engineer got to wear these incredibly great Armani clothes and date this really good-looking engineer," said Barb Samardzich, Ford Motor Co.'s vice president of powertrain engineering. "I call it the Hollywoodization of engineering."

Jay Iyengar, Chrysler Group's director and chief engineer, head of electrified propulsion systems, said automakers need to explain to college students the opportunities in hybrid-electric powertrains.

Companies also should send female engineers to recruit at colleges, panelists said. Iyengar said a recent round of hiring in her department landed only four women out of 50 hires."Maybe seeing a female going into those meetings and talking with students might be better," she said.

The female recruiters have a better chance of finding female employees if they go to colleges that have high percentages of women in their engineering departments. Only 17 percent of undergraduate engineering students are women, said Nancy Gioia, Ford's director of global electrification.

And the percentage is lower at the best engineering schools in the world, where Ford historically has recruited. So Ford is re-evaluating which colleges should be on its recruiting list, Gioia said.

For the past couple of years, the global automotive crisis has limited automakers' programs for recruiting and developing women. Instead, industry insiders would hear, "We have to get the plants up and running," said Linda Theisen, who was a Metaldyne vice president when she joined the panel but is now Fisker Automotive's vice president of purchasing.

The panelists said they hoped the industry survivors once again would turn their attention to diversity.

"We've gone too far not to leap ahead," said Jeneanne Hanley, a Lear Corp. vice president. "If we don't have a diverse work force, we do not have the best work force. We don't have time anymore. Our time is right now."

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