Congratulations to the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry, who are being recognized for their leadership in all segments of the business.
It is commendable that so many women have earned positions of influence and authority in manufacturing, engineering, product development, marketing, information technology, purchasing, corporate management and other disciplines at automakers, suppliers and dealerships.
This year's list, published in the Sept. 13 issue, is the third compiled by Automotive News. Since the first compilation in 2000, several companies have developed programs to encourage and mentor female leaders, and the effort shows by the career paths of this year's honorees. Such programs help the individuals and the companies, which benefit from broader, more diverse management teams.
But the economic downturn and resulting turmoil in the industry have affected female executives to at least the same degree as their male colleagues. Since the second list of 100 Leading Women was published in 2005, nearly half the women on that list -- including several who were at or near the top of their companies -- have left the industry. Some bailed out, some were pushed and some were recruited by other businesses.
This is an auspicious time. The industry is changing and growing. In the wake of bankruptcies, a nagging sales depression and consolidation among dealerships and suppliers, the industry is realigning itself by reinventing business models and recasting corporate cultures.
In addition, a group of companies dedicated to alternative-vehicle technology is emerging, prepared to challenge traditional producers and capture a significant share of the market.
As a result, there will be a sustained demand for high-caliber talent from every discipline. Businesses that hope to thrive in this new era must be able to rely on the strength of a diverse work force and management team. So the industry must accelerate efforts to attract and keep the best and the brightest of both genders and from all ethnic and racial backgrounds.
It won't be easy. Other industries with glossier, less-challenged images have a head start in developing worker-friendly environments and business models.
But this is a great industry that still offers tremendous opportunities. It must adjust and adapt to meet the challenge of building a diverse team for tomorrow.
Having the right people will make the difference.