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- Karenann Terrell, vice president and chief information officer, Chrysler group and Mercedes-Benz NAFTA
- Anne Stevens, group vice president of Canada, Mexico and South America at Ford Motor Co.
- Deborah Wahl Meyer, vice president of marketing for Lexus
- Kathleen Ligocki, CEO of Tower Automotive
- Lori Queen, vehicle line executive for small vehicles at General Motors
- Julie Roehm, director of Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge communications for Chrysler group.
Are conditions different today for women?
Queen: Yeah, it's not even kind of the same.
Ligocki: You wouldn't even have been able to put a room like this together. There weren't role models. Your role models were men.
Stevens: You'd walk on the floor in a manufacturing plant and people would just turn around and stare at you.
Terrell: American society was just like that. Banks were filled with men just the same way as manufacturing plants. I think that the auto industry might not have been significantly different than the rest of business.
Roehm: You start to see the shift of more and more men staying home, men fulfilling the traditional women's roles. In the workplace, it seems there's more empathy for what you have to do as a family. I see more men talking about needing to leave early to go to the game or pick up their child one day a week from school. Particularly to those of you who (worked) in the '70s, I think we owe some gratitude for paving the way.
From an outside point of view, the car industry always seemed incredibly demanding. Twenty or 30 years ago, you had to race your boss in at 5:30 or 6 a.m., you had to stay until 7 or 8 p.m. and make sure you took a big briefcase of work home with you at night. That was the Detroit automotive culture. It appears that's become more flexible.
Queen: Technology. Instead of the big basket, you just have all of the electronic things that are tethered to you everywhere you go.
Terrell: But it has become more competitive. It's much more about talent wins. Work hours be damned. There still is a Detroit culture.
Meyer: The work is there. It's nonstop and it's ever-present.
Roehm: We are more global now than ever. It's extremely common to be checking the BlackBerry probably once an hour up until the time you go to bed. You're accessible, yet you're not having to sit in an office away from your family, away from your kids. To some extent it does hurt. Even on vacation, I'm always connected.
Kathleen Ligocki: "If you had children ... you didn't talk about it."
Terrell: I'm not sure it leveled the playing field. It just opened up a whole set of options that made it much more possible to make the choices that we want.
Ligocki: For my generation, (it's) a little different. I think there were sacrifices when I was coming up. You did make tough choices.
Queen: I totally agree. There was an expectation that you were there from this hour to this hour, and you didn't dare come in late and you didn't dare leave, and you needed to be there.
Ligocki: And if you had children, it was a separate thing and you didn't talk about it. You lived these separate lives. Women of (the younger) generation came in and said, "What's up with this? This isn't how we're going to live. No, no, no." And you just kind of took charge of it.
Deborah Wahl Meyer: "Imagine the possibilities."
Do women graduating from college still feel like the auto industry is not for them?
Terrell: There's a lot more choices for women that come out of school, including the whole entrepreneurial track.
Ligocki: In areas like financial services, the movement up is faster. Technology. You see new segments like eBay, where you do see women at the top. We still are in a very conservative sector run by mostly very large companies. And so it just takes a lot for anybody to get to the top.
For those of you in the quarter-century club, was there somebody that took you under their wing? Did you have a mentor?
Several women: Yes, absolutely.
Stevens: At that time, it was all men that would see my capabilities. They start giving you inside information and advice on how to be successful. Without it, clearly, I could not have been successful in the industry. There are so many unwritten rules, and there's so much protocol and unwritten protocol in organizations. If you don't have some insight, particularly when you're young and you don't think about it, you violate it and you can get yourself off track.
Lori Queen: "You have to believe in yourself."
Queen: It was early in my career, and this individual found me. For 20 years, every move I had he had something to do with. Unfortunately, he is retired now. But he was incredible because every position I had, women had never been in. There were no women in the truck group. He told them I was coming there, end of story, and I was going to be a chief engineer. And I bet that there were probably four senior-level executives that were ready to leave because it was forced down their throats. But if you didn't have somebody like that, I don't know how you'd get the experience and the opportunities to move.
Ligocki: The obligation for us is to pass it on to the next generation.
Terrell: When one of us goes up, we all go up. I think, "Hey, the sunroof just opened in the glass ceiling." That's an important element as senior women. There is no competitiveness within companies and with other companies.
Roehm: We can be a mentor to one another. I think there's a fallacy that the mentor has to be X number of levels above you. There's so much to be learned from one another.
Ligocki: I think it has really grown over the last 10 years in particular. For Anne and I, there was a group of us (at Ford), the Buddy's bunch. We'd all go to Buddy's and eat pizza and drink wine.
Stevens: A lot of wine. We reorganized the company how many times?
Meyer: The idea of the classic mentor - I don't see that as much anymore. There are a lot of people in my career that have reached out and helped me. A lot of women are afraid to ask, from what I've seen. They don't actually sit down and (ask for specific advice). I think a lot of the women who do leave often leave because they don't see other possibilities or they don't understand how to get around it. And a personal issue or some kind of crisis in their own life is forcing a choice.
How important is it to formalize that process? Anne, you've worked with more established groups and networks at Ford.
Stevens: We have a professional women's network. And the women officers have a formal structure where we mentor the senior executive women. So it is formalized. But does it need to be formalized? I think it depends on the culture of the company. If the company is one where they see a group of women chatting, and (they think they're) plotting to overthrow the company, then it does need to be formalized.
Julie Roehm: "There's more empathy for what you have to do as a family."
Terrell: Networking in a more formal way is incredibly valuable to junior women. I think most of us would say that the most valuable mentoring we received was more informal.
Ligocki: In large companies, you do need a more formal forum to advocate major policy changes.
Is it realistic to think you can get to a 50-50 world in the automotive industry?
Roehm: I don't see why it has to be only 50-50. When you have enough women who are in positions to make that difference, why shouldn't they be just as likely to be chosen as the male counterpart?
Queen: In the '70s, those of us who were there where we had quotas, we did really dumb things. And it set us back even further because they promoted people because they had to. And that alienated anybody who was doing a good job even further because you were really only promoted because you were a woman and they had to meet these quotas. So quotas are horrible.
What will the workplace look like in 10 years, and how will that affect women?
Ligocki: It will be yet more diverse. When I look at this next generation, they see differently again. They are much more fluid. It's not going to be so easy to define these people. We're going to have to create yet a different kind of work environment in 10 years for this new generation.
Will the work week be still more flexible?
Meyer: I see the recognition about dual-career families. Right now a lot of careers are still focused on one person in the household working to support the family. And the reality today is two-career families.
Stevens: It clearly is going to be challenging. The whole issue of golden handcuffs and loyalties - from both the corporation's perspective and the human being's perspective - these rules are going to change. People today want to handle their own benefits, 401(k)s, and they're not going to get linked into a 30-year career. So it will be competing for talent. And then you have to factor in that the next generation will not work like we work. It's going to have to be redefined or companies will not be able to get talent. And that's what it's going to be about: a talent war.
Let's go around the table. You are the commencement speaker at a women's college and you give life and career advice. What is the thesis paragraph of your speech?
Roehm: Don't try to be who you're not. Don't try to be a man in a women's world. Be an individual. There's a lot of value in who you are. No. 2 is be prepared. While women have a much more even playing field than many of you had to experience, you will still have more initial pressure to prove yourself. Preparation and fact-gathering and information is key. And third, network. The network is your friend. There are people like you. There are people who want to see you succeed.
Stevens: There are ups and downs. You need to be durable personally, and you need to be durable in terms of what types of work and how you work because along the path of your career it will change. The second thing I would say is that I really believe that anybody can have everything that they want out of their career and out of their life. If you look at your career as 30 years plus and you look at your life 70 years, don't try to do everything at the same time. Because you're not going to be able to do it. No one can.
Ligocki: I always think of it in three Vs: vision, values and valor. You should have a vision of your own life; you're the boss of your own life. You should always be true to yourself. Your set of values is a constant. And valor means the courage to follow the road. Whatever the road is in your life, you should decide, you should take risks, you shouldn't be afraid of doing something nobody's ever done, if that's what you want to do.
Terrell: Know yourself, most importantly. Strip away what everybody says is good about you and great about you and know what's really underneath that is of real and unique value.
Queen: You have to believe in yourself. Especially for women, there's a lot of people out there telling you women can't do this or you can't do that. I got into the field I'm in because I had a ninth-grade buddy who said that girls can't take drafting and girls can't take electronics.
Meyer: Imagine the possibilities. Because if you can't imagine something you can never achieve it. Then the biggest thing I learned was ask for so much help along the way and give lots of it because, if you do, the world will treat you well.
You may e-mail Amy Wilson at [email protected]