Why Should Men Care About Advancing Women in Automotive?

on October 19, 2023

According to the industry experts who chose to speak at and sponsor the recent Women Automotive Summit (20th September), women are fundamental to the workforce transformation fuelling Automotive’s digital future.

Why? And who shares responsibility for securing their seat at the table: the industry’s female minority, or the men in the Automotive driving seat?

The expert speakers at the Summit had clear answers: 

Closing the Talent Gap

Quoting Automotive HR Trends research to be published later this month, Gi Group Holding’s Domiziano Pontone highlighted worker shortages in excess of ~40% for some key roles.

Porsche AG’s Patricia Bernstein cited estimates that of the entire workforce, 75% must upskill and 25% must completely retrain for the jobs of the future. Theirs were two voices among many at the event calling for a new approach to hiring, training and retaining the workforce.

In the words of XL2 MD Marie-Fleur Revel, Automotive “must foster diversity to attract talent and boost performance”. Different demographics must be part of workforce strategy.

 

A New Measure of Strength

To paraphrase Thilo Koslowski, former CEO of Porsche Digital, “in this new automotive era, companies must choose a destination: Digital Creator or strong Digital Participant? There is no third role: Digital Observer”.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking digital destination presented at the summit was BMW’s vision of vehicles with a “digital soul”, transforming user experience through “human-centric tech magic”. The conversation Kirsty Skinner-Gerth staged with a “digital vehicle companion” the BMW i Vision DEE, perfectly illustrated Thilo Koslowski’s assertion that “computing and AI are the new horsepower”.

New digital destinations necessitate a different driving force. According to XL2’s Marie-Fleur, “as products and services become more complex, inter-and multi-disciplinary profiles become more valuable. Women bring new skills to teams”. And what’s the risk of relegating women to the role of “digital observers”? While the automotive industry might still be driven mostly by men, vehicles are not. The argument follows that the teams that make the “tech magic” happen should reflect the diversity of humans for which “human-centric” experiences are designed.

 

The Changing Face of Leadership

As the industry changes, so do the demands on leadership. To paraphrase BMW’s Kirsty Skinner-Gerth, “digitization changes the way we lead…a complex world requires a high level of trust and balance”.

In many ways keynote speaker Marie-Fleur Revel exemplifies the broader approaches to work and leadership for which she and other industry experts advocated during the summit. A self-proclaimed recipient of positive discrimination and single mother (by choice), she heads up the Audi and Capgemini joint-venture XL2 while working part-time.

She described her own leadership style as “collaborative”, “unconventional” and encouraged women to aspire to leadership while embracing their own style. “Diverse leadership styles” she said “enrich the company”.

As one of the first generations of women to ever experience positive discrimination in the workplace, Marie-Fleur spoke candidly of her conflict in being promoted to role for which male candidates were not considered. But, as she concluded, “for the last 500 years, the token would always have been male. Change is needed and it’s ok if there’s a little extra help along the way”.

 

A Clear Call for Change

Automotive’s digital destination requires a profound evolution in workforce and talent strategy, both to close the skills gap and open the industry to broader perspectives. This includes reevaluating who should lead and participate in the process of reimagining and rebuilding.

In the words of Marie-Fleur Revel, “this is not your father’s automotive industry”. True. But, while Automotive has changed beyond all recognition, it is predominantly still patriarchal in its leadership.

Ultimately, it is men that must create conditions for women to thrive and remove barriers to their advancement. Domiziano Pontone opened the summit with this statement: “Without women there is no future for this industry”. His male counterparts should act to ensure his statement doesn’t prove prophetic.

 

Wenham Carter colleagues at Women Automotive Summit, 20th September 2023, Ludwigsburg - Germany

 

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