Profiles of honorees

Profiles by name

Exclusive Lead Sponsor

Borrowing some behaviors can help women get heard in male-dominated industry, experts say

Jenny Ta: Women who make decisions too slowly could lose a business contract.
Comment on this article 
Print this article Print
Reprint Reprints
Send a letter Respond
Email Article
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Share on Twitter

After 21 years in the car business a trace of "maleness" has crept into Dana Rodriguez's behavior at the office.
"I certainly don't look like a man or dress like one, but I act like one," said Rod- riguez, 43, Eastern region operations trainer for DCH Auto Group, a large dealership group based in South Amboy, N.J.
For example, when Lithia Motors bought DCH last year and Rodriguez was given increased responsibilities, she was quick to ask for a raise -- even though it went against her basic nature.
"It's important for women to ask and to have confidence in asking," she said. "You have to recognize when you're being overlooked. Men don't have to think about that as much."
This just in: Men and women think and act differently in the workplace. And the differences can make it much harder for women to get ahead in a male-dominated industry such as automotive.
The key difference is style of communication, according to business leaders who have studied the subject. And because men occupy most positions of power, their way of communicating tends to be considered the right way.
For example, men are likely to display more self-confidence in the workplace, whether or not they actually feel more self-confident. They also make decisions faster whether or not they have actually thought about what they are deciding.
Also, body language is different.
"Men tend to avoid eye contact when talking to you," said Jenny Ta, 43, founder of the social networking site Sqeeqee. "They tend to look at their notebooks. They are aggressive with their words, but they don't look you in the eye."
Women like to sit across from one another when they talk, Ta says. Men prefer to stand side-by-side while in conversation, she says.
But in a room full of men, Vicki Poponi, 54, head of export sales for American Honda Motor Co., says that women often will physically step back from the action.
"In a meeting room, you'll often see that women don't sit at the table," Poponi said. "They sit at a back row along the wall. They look at the table and think, 'I don't belong there,' even if they do. The guys, even if they're not sure, will sit at the table."
Such things play into how women are perceived. And so they can become big things.

"Men are promoted on potential. Women are promoted on performance -- big difference."
Connie Glaser
Leadership expert

It's part of a fundamental disadvantage that women have in the workplace, says Connie Glaser, women's leadership expert and co-author of Swim with the Dolphins.
"Men are promoted on potential," Glaser said. "Women are promoted on performance -- big difference."
But things are changing. As management styles evolve in the business world overall female behavioral traits are becoming advantageous.
Glaser says women tend to be comfortable as mentors, nurturers and collaborators -- and listeners -- and that helps them to ascend.
Swim with the Dolphins advocates using traditional feminine traits as a way to empower managers and help employees grow.
Dave Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., says women may be uniquely adapted to complex 21st century business organizations.
"I think women are more comfortable with the idea of relationships, collaborations, the team," Cole said.
The autocratic, top-down management styles of the old male auto barons, he says, have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
"The king is dead," Cole said. "The coach is the leadership of tomorrow."

But wait a minute. Things haven't changed that much. Women still must adapt to and operate in a male-dominated environment in the auto industry.
Ta, who founded an investment firm and became a millionaire by age 27, believes that women are better organized and more painstaking than men. She says men are action-oriented, while women prefer lengthy analysis before rendering a decision. Men decide things faster and, indeed, Ta says being fast is often more important than being right. She insists that women need to understand that.
"There are women who make decisions too slowly and could end up losing a business contract," said Ta, whose book, Wall Street Cinderella, describes her escape from Vietnam during the country's war years and her rise on Wall Street.
"In the business world, 99 percent of the time a man is on the other side of a deal, and he might not wait," she said. "That's when contracts can be lost."
Another key difference: Ta says women draw heavily on their emotions when making decisions.
"This is the total opposite of men," she said. "While women are meticulous and detailed and use their minds, they also employ 10 to 15 percent of their heart. That can be seen by men as being weak or emotional."
Men are more direct. They use fewer words when talking business. Women go in for longer explanations and employ soft, almost apologetic words.
Rodriguez said: "Women are more submissive in the way they voice their opinions, using words like 'maybe' or 'I was wondering.'"

"Whatever you do, make sure you speak your mind. Don't ever sit in a meeting with a thought and not say it just because you're the only women in the room."
Terri Mulcahey
Penske Automotive Group

Such differences are highlighted in performance evaluations and salary negotiations, says Andrea Riley, 50, Ally Financial's chief marketing officer.
"That's a big part of what we talk about in terms of trying to get women to ask for what you want," Riley said.
Women are more likely to list the reasons they deserve a raise or promotion.
"I notice more young men will come in and say: 'You know I'm good at what I do, and here's what I want,''' Riley said. "It'll be a 45-minute conversation to get to the same point with a female."
Julia Johnson, 47, an assistant professor of automotive technology at Skyline College in San Bruno, Calif., learned to talk like a man and make quick decisions while working as a mechanic for an independent service shop early in her career.
"I had never worked with all guys before so I didn't know about the communication differences," Johnson said.
"When somebody asks you a question, is it more valuable to give someone an immediate answer or a correct answer? Women say correct. Men don't value that. They want an immediate answer, even if it's wrong."
For example, her foreman in the shop once asked her if a car needed shocks or struts. Johnson's reply: "Let me check."
The foreman impatiently yelled to her male colleague: "Hey, Simon, does that car need shocks or struts?"
Simon had not even looked at the car but confidently answered, "Struts!"
"He was wrong," Johnson said. "But his confidence made him more credible."
She says men and women are hard-wired differently. Men were hunters, so a hesitant response could result in death. Women cared for the babies, so haste could lead to death, she says.
"I managed to be successful in this industry by mimicking guys' behavior," Johnson said. "If I do it right, I get away with it just like they do."
It boils down to a kind of swagger. Men generally have more of it.
"Women tend to demonstrate more self-doubt," Glaser said. "They tend to be not as prominent risk takers as men and they tend to not sing their own praises as loudly as men do."

"I was told early on I'm not allowed to have a bad day," Ford's Kimberly Pittel said, and was given advice on dealing with men. "I'm over that," she said.

Poponi of American Honda said: "Guys grow up competing and don't show their weaknesses, whereas women -- we bond over our emotions and shared experiences. We extravert it more."
Glaser offers an example: If a man and a woman are both asked to take on an assignment they have never done before, the man will typically say to the boss, "Great! I can handle this."
A woman will say: "I've never done this before" and outline in detail how she'll go about researching it and completing it.
Ta says that reaction implants an idea in the boss's mind: The woman is less capable than the man.
"I wouldn't coach women to lie about their abilities," Glaser said, "but it's like sitting at a poker table. You don't need to show your cards too much. You need to speak in a different way so that you don't open up your hand."
Terri Mulcahey, 50, Penske Automotive Group's executive vice president of marketing, says a mentor taught her a valuable lesson several years ago.
"Whatever you do, make sure you speak your mind," Mulcahey was told. "Don't ever sit in a meeting with a thought and not say it just because you're the only woman in the room. I never forgot that."
But things are always complicated for women. Mulcahey also learned to express opinions without displaying emotion.
Kimberly Pittel, 56, Ford Motor Co.'s vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering, doesn't believe women are more emotional than men but admits that it can appear that way.
"I was told early on I'm not allowed to have a bad day," she said.

Back then, a mentor gave Pittel the lowdown about male counterparts. The advice: "Don't interrupt; let them finish their thought. Give them time to answer; don't jump right in with an answer. You have to be very careful that you're not edgy or abrupt or harsh."
Pittel says she no longer follows those rules but suggests that women just starting out probably should do so.
"I'm over that," she said. "I'm very forthright. I do put forward my opinion.

Poponi: "Sit at the table."

"That started, I'd say, five years ago. But I think about that, and I've been in the industry 29 years."
Dina Perreault, 45, human resources director for the Faulkner Organization, which operates 23 dealerships in Pennsylvania, tells young women to be themselves.
But she also monitors their behavior.
In a recent discussion with a female manager at a dealership, the manager lamented to Perreault that she was not being considered for promotion.
"I said, 'What are the behaviors that might be inhibiting you?' I found out she would routinely make platters of cupcakes and baked goods, which was very nice. But I asked her to name a manager she emulates. She gave me his name, and I said, 'When was the last time he brought in cupcakes?' She said, 'Never.'
"'Stop making cupcakes,' I said. "'I want you to be feminine, but you don't need to be the caretaker.'"
It's a balancing act, though. Perreault says women's aggressive language can come across as unnatural.
"Men use profanity [and] women think they have to also," she said. "But you don't. Always be polished and professional."
While salty language may not be necessary, showing initiative is. For example, Poponi often gives this advice to young women at Honda: Invite yourself to lunch with male colleagues and join their conversations.
"Sit at the table," she said.
DCH Auto's Rodriguez says she coaches women to get better at reading their environment, to do a better job of recognizing when they are being overlooked and then speaking up about it.
"You have to stop being the victim," Rodriguez said. "Stop complaining; take more chances because that's how we grow, and that's how we learn."
Bradford Wernle contributed to this report.

Automotive News Home