Fight for equality continues
Gains have been made, but women in the industry feel they still dont fit in
Progress has been made, but winners of the Automotive News Europe Woman of the Year award tell the newspaper that recruitment must improve and promotions must be given more fairly.
They also have mixed emotions about getting awards primarily because of their gender.
“You get the feeling you are being recognized for being a minority,” said Anne Asensio, 43, General Motors executive director of design for advanced vehicles. “I would prefer to get an award based on the significance of the job I do. We always have the impression we don’t fit in. And when that difference is reinforced it hurts.”
Said Cristina Siletto, 40, vehicle line executive for Fiat Auto’s upper-medium and large-segment cars: “I think that to a certain extent this is detrimental. It is obvious – and human – that there are differences between the two sexes, but in certain circumstances emphasizing this could cause a negative reaction for some people.”
But awkward feelings are not the only thing that comes with being a Woman of the Year.
“It was a little embarrassing, but what was nice was the e-mails from people I had never met who said, ‘I will tell my daughter about this,’ ” said Pauline Walsh, 38, Ford of Europe director of manufacturing quality.
Said Camilla Palmertz, 38, project manager for Volvo’s YCC concept car: “It serves as a good inspiration to other women.”
Asensio agrees with Palmertz: “We need it in some ways to create role models and to make women’s actions visible.”
The Woman of the Year winners said they are witnessing slow but steady changes regarding women in the industry.
Odile Desforges, 56, Renault’s senior vice president of purchasing, said that four of the eight at a recent meeting
of high-level managers were women.
“Things are changing step by step,” Desforges said.
Fiat’s Siletto was Fiat Auto’s leader of the Grande Punto project before being promoted to her current job. She said she thinks Fiat Auto’s decision to let her lead a project as important as the Grande Punto small-segment car was a breakthrough.
“This certainly opens the way for women to be given more responsibilities within the company,” she said. “These days everyone is less surprised to find women in key positions.”
But some want things to move faster.
“The trend is good,” Asensio said, “but the pace isn’t.”
She said what discourages her is that she has been at meetings to decide on promotions during which a woman’s qualifications and performance have undergone much closer scrutiny than a man’s.
“They want the woman to be perfect,” Asensio said, “but men will get through.”
When asked what companies are doing to draw young women to the industry, Walsh said Ford of Europe has a scholarship program that has helped attract women to the company.
Volvo’s Palmertz said she wishes her company would do more to recruit women.
Providing a different view, Fiat’s Siletto said she doesn’t think a company should try to recruit based on gender. “An industry should have a winning, avant-garde image in order to attract young people,” she said, “regardless of whether they are male or female.”
At some companies in other industries, bonuses are based on the diversity of the business’ work force, but none of the women interviewed for this story were aware of such incentives being offered at their companies.
Said Tatiana Butovitsch Temm, 44, communications manager for the Volvo YCC concept car: “If it was, you might see things happen faster.”
Woman in charge
All of the Woman of the Year winners are confident there will be a female CEO at a major automaker someday. But they have different views of where she would be based.
Volvo’s Butovitsch Temm and Palmertz said they believe one of the two French automakers will be the first with a female CEO. Palmertz said that she feels a well-educated person in France is respected and is seen as an equal regardless of gender, which she said is not the case in Sweden.
Renault’s Desforges and Ford of Europe’s Walsh said they believe the first female carmaker CEO will be at a Swedish brand.
But Fiat’s Siletto doesn’t expect the first CEO of a European carmaker to be in Italy.
“We still have a more traditionalist culture than other European countries,” she said.
GM’s Asensio has a completely different view: She believes the Chinese will be first.
“The women in China are remarkable. They have such an appetite to achieve,” she said. “There are fewer women in the industry there than here, but the ones that are there are stronger than the men.”
You can reach Douglas A. Bolduc at firstname.lastname@example.org.