Renault-Nissan alliance has big goals for gender diversity

TOKYO -- The Renault-Nissan alliance is touting its class-leading gender diversity in the male-dominated auto industry -- thanks especially to the partnership’s French business side.

The group sponsored last week’s global meeting of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society in Deauville, France. And it released a surprising fact sheet that helps show why it did:

• Women make up 17 percent of Renault’s work force, up from 10 percent in 1999.

• Women make up 11 percent of Nissan’s global work force.

• At Renault, three of the 10 executive committee members are women.

• Also at Renault, women hold 17 percent of the managerial positions.

• At Nissan, women hold 10 percent of the global manager posts, up from 7 percent in 2008.

Renault says it has the highest percentage of women in senior management in the industry.

Not surprisingly, Nissan’s operations in Japan -- where women at big companies are still sometimes relegated to serving tea -- trail the advances made in more progressive France.

In Japan, women account for just 6 percent of managerial-level positions -- a figure out of whack with Nissan’s 10 percent weighting for global managers and 11 percent weighting for women in the global work force. It’s way behind Renault’s 17 percent for female managers.

But there are big signs of hope for increased diversity.

In the Japanese auto industry, only 3 percent of all managerial positions are filled by women. So Nissan is ahead of the curve. And it wants to stay that way by aiming to have women represent 14 percent of it global management by 2017.

Renault is even more aggressive. It has set an annual objective to have women account for 30 percent of all new engineering and technical positions and 50 percent of all new sales jobs.

Improving employee diversity is a hot new trend at international corporations and not because companies are trying to be politically correct. Increased diversity in the executive suites, sales offices and r&d labs helps companies connect better with an increasingly diverse customer base.

The auto industry is a laggard in the movement, for sure. But clearly that is changing, and the first movers are hoping to see their all-inclusiveness translate into better sales.

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