As a result, Pajula told the sold-out audience of 550, she has vowed to seek out women in her company with potential.
Karen McKemie, a Sonic Automotive Inc. vice president, said she has taken a more pointed approach when tapping hesitant women to lead.
When one employee declined a promotion to become a Sonic store general manager, McKemie threatened to remove the candidate from her current position.
"Challenge yourself and do the things you don't think you can do," McKemie said. "Don't get nervous about thinking you can't do it or being uncomfortable -- because it's a very natural feeling."
McKemie encourages women in retail to boost their self-assurance by finding mentors of both sexes.
"Automotive retail is probably more male-dominated than the other parts of the automotive world," McKemie said. "I need to know how men think, but more importantly, I need to know how men perceive me and a male mentor is essential in doing that."
The good news is that confidence could be contagious. McKemie said once she was comfortable with her own capabilities, it was easier to help others.
"I couldn't just muscle through and outwork everybody," she said. "I had to partner and mentor. That was as important as getting results. It took me years to develop that confidence."