The Leading Women didn't get here on their own
It's the mantra that drives many of the female leaders in the auto industry today. They feel it for themselves and, perhaps just as much, for the female colleagues they mentor and inspire.
"It's really important when you're a female in a company, especially in a leadership position, to set the tone for other women," said Andrea Riley, chief marketing officer at Ally Financial.
That was a subject visited repeatedly in a panel discussion this summer among 10 of Automotive News' 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry. This session represented an evolution from past Leading Women roundtables. Participants have moved on from telling war stories about mistreatment to brainstorming about the best way forward for women in the industry. And it's about more than their own careers. These women carry a lot of weight on their shoulders as role models. They want other women to succeed and join them at the top.
"We are all collectively at this table in a position of authority," said Marissa Hunter, director of FCA US brand advertising and head of advertising for Ram truck brand at FCA US. "But it's a position of obligation and responsibility."
Lieblein recalled being inspired by a female executive in GM's product engineering department who took her under her wing. Lieblein, then 30, was a newly promoted executive with a young daughter. The other woman had three children and shared tips about child care and navigating the automaker's corporate waters.
"She really helped me out with the politics, the nuances and everything," Lieblein said. "She was amazing. And she probably didn't even know the impact she was making. But it was huge."
The roundtable participants shared many such stories of their mentors and meaningful guidance they have received over the years. For them, getting that help -- or sometimes not getting that help -- reinforced the role they could play for others.
"You need a support system. If you're the only one in the room who looks like you do, it's hard," said Janet Barnard, president of Manheim North America, "And honestly, not everybody probably has the stamina to withstand that by themselves."
Barnard, who joined the auto industry just four years ago, was surprised to find it lagged other industries with regard to networking programs aimed at keeping female executives connected and bolstering their careers. But many of the women who participated in the roundtable have tried to make up for that within their own companies. They and their female colleagues are involved in both formal and informal efforts to help the other women around them.
"But I ask them to come closer," said Kimberly Pittel, vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering at Ford Motor Co.
These Leading Women also spend time encouraging other women to raise their voices and pursue goals -- be it a pay raise, a desired position or backing on a project about which they feel passionate. Women tend to be less likely than men to ask for such rewards, participants said. That reluctance is why mentoring younger women is so important, said Terri Mulcahey, executive vice president of marketing at Penske Automotive Group.
"If you're not at the table, bring your chair," Uhl said. "You just have to invite yourself, and people will not generally tell you no. But they might not come and ask you."
The advice Barnard gives out most frequently? It goes back to not quitting.
"Just keep going and figure it out along the way," she said. "Always have hope and optimism about what's next for you. Sometimes we have a tendency, probably more so than our male counterparts, to quit."
For men, that confidence is more likely to be built up early because they have more opportunity for casual conversations with male leaders outside meetings, in the hallways, even in the restrooms, said Kristen Tabar, a vice president of the technical administration planning office at Toyota Technical Center Inc. Those are the kind of chats in which younger men might be praised for certain skills and told they'd be good at a certain job.
"When you don't have those early discussions as frequently or naturally, then those other conversations [where you ask for something] become monumental, and it becomes a little bit more intimidating to do it," Tabar said. "I hear that a lot from younger women. They need more nurturing along the way to have the confidence to ask."
Social outings are another avenue for face time with managers. "I tell every woman I know: Learn to play golf," Barnard said. "I don't care if you're bad at it. I'm bad at it. But at least I go out there. Because guess what? Most of the men are bad at it, too."
Many social bonding activities common in business -- playing golf, hunting, fishing -- tend to appeal more to men, the participants said. But there's room to change that.
"There's an opportunity for us socially, collectively, men and women together, to figure out how to not exclude people who may have different interests from that bonding time," Barnard said.
"We've had panels where we've brought in women from dealerships and manufacturers and other parts of the industry so that the younger females in the company can see that it's possible," Riley said. "It's really been a fabulous program for us because it's the first time that so many women have been exposed to the leadership."
A recent session in Little Rock, Ark., with 450 women in attendance was scheduled for three hours but lasted five, she said. Coaching younger women on how to earn more money is part of the message.
GM has had many formal programs over the years, some more effective than others, Lieblein said. This year, GM brought 200 global leaders together in Detroit for a week.
"All of our senior leaders came in and talked to them. People from outside the company talked to them," Lieblein said. "It was a fantastic networking opportunity for these folks. That was the first time we've done it. Things like that -- getting folks together, exposing them to key leaders -- is really important."
The roundtable participants talked about offering that help all the way down to the intern level. At Penske, Mulcahey has her interns do a presentation in front of senior leadership in part to teach them how to interact with top executives.
"Our industry is so ripe for change -- the online world, the way cars are built, the technology," Mulcahey said. "It is so exciting -- what is to come in the next 20, 30 years. We owe it to ourselves to help get young women excited about being in this business because of that change. It's got to change, right? For competition's sake, it's going to have to change."