Kim Day, COO of Canadian retailer Steele Automotive Group in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, said that while she has been given opportunities to grow in her career, there's still "quite a bit of old boy-school club happening, especially at the dealership level. But it is changing. It is getting better."
Steele, with 40 dealerships in Canada plus one in Texas, has female general managers, and four women hold C-suite or vice president-level jobs, Day said.
Grace Huang of Manheim said unconscious bias against women in the automotive industry exists and, in her experience, even a conscious bias.
"I work mostly with lots of dealers and of course lots of OEMs and rental companies and banks and so forth," Huang said. "And yeah, people are always surprised that I'm the president of Manheim. And I've never walked into a client meeting where I'm assumed the president until I introduce myself."
Huang, who followed Cox Automotive executive Janet Barnard in Manheim's top job, said women must continue to show others they can succeed in the industry even if they may have to work harder than others to do so.
Barnard, now chief people officer for Cox Automotive, told Automotive News there's more that can be done to open doors for women to advance to top executive jobs in the auto industry.
"I also look to the men — especially the white men in our industry, who still are the majority here — and really would just look you all in the eye and say you can help us fix this and we need you to help us fix it," Barnard said. "It's finding great male sponsors who have a passion around equality and getting all the voices at the table, whether it's in an industry forum or whether it's inside a board room as part of a team. There are a lot of great men in this industry who I think will help."
Cox Automotive has both a longtime mentorship program and a newer sponsorship program for women and people of color that started three years ago. A majority of program sponsors are male, Huang said. And between 2018 and 2020, Cox has experienced a drop in turnover among women and has seen increases in promotions for women and people of color, she said.
"We also believe that by having a distinct sponsorship program, we go beyond development to intentionally enabling executive decision makers to actively 'speak up' for historically underrepresented groups," Huang said in a statement. "The two types of programs ensure that we have a focus on development and career growth."
Dealership technology company DealerSocket launched its SocketWomen group in September after beginning the effort several months earlier. It focuses on "collaboration, connection and coaching," Sejal Pietrzak, CEO of DealerSocket said, adding that DealerSocket has more than doubled the number of women in leadership positions since she joined the company three years ago.
SocketWomen has 85 members, a few of whom are men, and plans to launch a mentoring program with female and male mentors, a company spokesman said in an email to Automotive News.
Many of the 100 Leading Women said they feel a sense of onus to guide younger women, help highlight automotive careers and recruit more women to the automotive industry.
"It's our responsibility to also help mentor, help mold, help coach women," said Allyson Witherspoon, U.S. chief marketing officer at Nissan.
Many of the Leading Women say mentors helped pave the way for their success and they feel compelled to help other women advance. Fiat Chrysler's Chamarthi called it an "obligation."
Her company three years ago launched the Women's Leadership Experience, a development program for early- to mid-career employees that was created by Fiat Chrysler's Women's Alliance resource group. As part of the initiative, 25 women per session participate in an eight-month class that includes coaching, male and female executive sponsors, personalized training and 360-degree surveys that provide feedback from multiple sources and a self-assessment.