As the Women & Automotive agenda continues to come together, I wanted to take a moment to learn more about the issues driving the event from women who have established their careers within the automotive industry. What better sources than the members of our board of advisers?

Both Wendy Ladd, account manager at Pfaff Leasing, and Cheryl Munce, auto industry consultant, carved some time out of their busy schedules to answer a few of my questions that were inspired by my personal ongoing research about the topic of ‘women and the automotive industry.’ First, I wanted to know who or what inspired Ladd and Munce to consider the automotive industry as a possible career.

Who or what inspired you to build your career within the automotive industry?

Wendy Ladd: I started as a job to pay for school; however, once I got in the business it was hard to leave. It gets under your skin quickly, and I loved the challenge. I have had great sales managers and team members throughout the years who inspire me to continue to be better and encourage others to thrive for success. My goal is to now inspire others.

Cheryl Munce: It goes WAY back to my early childhood and long before handheld technology was invented. During the long ride to my grandparents’ cottage in the back of the car, I played a game with my sister to try to guess the make and model of cars in the distance long before we could see the nameplate on the trunk. Well, I guess that’s where my passion began and how I became a student of the industry at a very young age.

Both women were drawn to the automotive industry at a young age, and combined they have nearly 70 years of experience. With positions ranging from receptionist to president, Ladd and Munce have worked the industry from the bottom up!

How long have you been part of the automotive industry, and what roles have you held?

WL: 33 years. Started at 18 as a receptionist to put myself through college. I was a top performing fleet sales manager with GM for 20 years, from 1990 to 2010. I then joined Auto Careers Group Inc. as the chief operating officer, where I helped many people find the right position for a new career and also helped many companies find the right employees. Currently, I am an account manager and truck diva at Pfaff Automotive Partners.

CM: I have been in the industry for nearly 35 years. I started my career as an executive assistant with DuPont Canada and helped to administer the company’s car fleet. From there, I pursued a career in automotive and worked as a customer service rep for a major leasing company (PHH), working my way through various integrated remarketing verticals to eventually become the president of the second largest salvage remarketing company in North America and then VP  and general manager at Manheim in Canada.

In her 2013 article titled “Shifting out of Neutral: The Automotive Industry”, Rhea Seymour of Women of Influence wrote that women made up more than 27 percent of the Canadian labor force in the motor vehicle parts manufacturing industry. That led me to ask Ladd and Munce about changes within the industry that have helped engage more women.

Looking back on the last decade, how have you seen the automotive industry landscape change and evolve to engage more women?

WL: Dealers realize women are the main decision makers in the home now so they changed their tone and hired more women. Also there are just as many women drivers now so you have to change with the times or get out of the business, basically.

CM: It is exciting to see some fresh blood and new, young faces come into the business in the past ten years or so. I think programs like the Automotive Business School at Georgian College in Barrie as well as structured and purposeful attention to developing diversity in business and putting successful women in influential positions have all contributed to an uptick of women in the industry.

Women continue to hold top position across the automotive industry. In fact, women represent roughly 17 percent of all management positions in auto. Seymour surveyed 12 senior women executives at automotive companies about the issue, and the following responses jumped out at me:

  • Fifty percent said the playing field isn’t level, and 90 percent of those said women face higher standards of performance.
  • Eighty-five percent said their own companies were rated average or above average when it comes to promoting women.
  • Fifty-nine percent reported that their employer has only one to three female corporate officers.

Joining a male-dominated industry is a challenge in and of itself, and surely Ladd and Munce had more to add to the above findings (which are just the tip of the iceberg). Here’s what the two had to say:

What is the biggest challenge women currently face within the automotive industry?

WL: The hours are difficult when you have children as it is shift work, and also the men who like to make women feel unworthy if they are feeling insecure with a woman’s talent. You have to have a good back bone to pass that point. Once you pass that point you will soar; it’s a matter of passing that point.

CM: I personally think the biggest challenge for women in this industry today is the woman herself. Women tend to be less aggressive, lack self-confidence, under-value and under-estimate their worth and are generally wanting to please others by making popular decisions. Don’t think gender in any industry; let yourself be the best “person” for the job, regardless of the industry or stereotypes.

There’s an interesting dynamic playing out across the industry of the urgency to empower women to be more confident and optimistic about their potential to move up into more management and decision making roles. At the same time, companies must be willing to address their culture and process in which they recruit, retain and promote their female employees. Engaging more women and growing diversity in the automotive industry will require a two-prong solution that can serve both individuals and companies.

Women & Automotive will address this and many other issues through guided discussions with industry leaders and active participants who are ready to transform the automotive industry into a more diverse and vibrant one. But in the meantime, I wanted to leave you with a few words of encouragement from Ladd and Munce.

What words of advice and encouragement do you want to share with our readers?

WL: Women are great in this business. They can multi task, they are natural nurturers and this business is all about relationships. It’s not always about the best price. It’s about trusting you to look after their best interest and to make them trust you first, then love you. After all life is all about love, isn’t it?

CM: If you are a woman in automotive today, then seek out some mentors (men or women), set some goals and forge a path that will eventually get you there. It won’t happen overnight, and you may have to take a detour for a while but you will find your way back to the main road, if you know where you are going. And if you are thinking about a career in automotive, then you have come to the right place! Automotive covers the entire spectrum of disciplines from sales, marketing, business development and technology to finance, insurance, service, repairs and manufacturing so there is something for everybody, and especially WOMEN!

Now I want to hear from you! How would you answer the questions above, and what commentary do you have to share about the topic of engaging more women in the automotive industry? Comment on this blog post or tweet me @MagicMor

Want to hear and learn more from our Board of Advisers? You’re in luck! On Thursday, Feb 18th Samantha Cunningham of Potratz Advertising will be leading a Google Hangout with our Board of Advisers, giving you a sneak preview of the discussions that will take place during Women & Automotive.