“Women in senior leadership positions are often role models for other female employees in witnessing what their potential can be when given the right opportunities or training,” she said.
Those opportunities, however, can dry up by midcareer in larger companies. That’s why auto companies often lack women in middle management and senior leadership positions, said Lisa Brown, regional marketing manager and senior diversity and inclusion consultant at Volkswagen Group of America.
Initiatives such as her company’s two-year Graduate Program graduate have attracted more women to the industry and expanded the talent pipeline, Brown said. The program rotates recent college and university graduates through several departments while giving them access to mentorships, networking, travel and training opportunities.
But “once they get into that 12- to 13-year mark, if they’re still around, then they’ll start to find the roadblocks,” Brown said. “After that first, second or third promotion, it starts to slow down.”
A few reasons likely account for this phenomenon, said Brown. Companies, for example, are lean, with many non-management positions and far fewer managerial roles.
As well, candidates for managerial jobs are often chosen from a male-dominated pool.
“By nature, it’s harder to advance because that’s just the way the company is structured,” she said.
For her doctoral dissertation in 2020, Brown studied how factors such as informal networks, mentoring and planning are related to the career advancement of women in the auto industry.
Using 92 full-time employees of an auto company as her sample, Brown found that women’s perceptions of their promotion opportunities were affected by challenges securing developmental assignments and relocation opportunities.
These moves can be thwarted for women due to “invisible” barriers such as unconscious bias and a lack of communication, Brown said.
For example, an employer may unconsciously select a man for an overseas assignment based on a societal assumption that a woman is unlikely to want to move because she has a family. And a woman may preemptively remove herself from consideration because she doesn’t think she meets every qualification for the job.
To combat this and ensure retention, Brown suggested employers develop programs that encourage women at all seniority levels to participate in interdepartmental projects.
DON’T WAIT IF YOU WANT
She advised women to seek out promotional opportunities as early as possible after joining a company and engage with industry- or role-related networking and advocacy groups to learn negotiation and leadership development skills.
Women need to put themselves out there, Floreani said, because the opportunities exist — especially in a market that faces a skills shortage.
“[The industry] has a stigma. I think we can get over that,” she said.
After Floreani purchased her dealership in 2010, she introduced herself to a group of male dealers at an industry event. She admitted she was new but wanted to learn.
“They thought it was amazing that I just jumped in,” Floreani said. “You need a little bit of positivity. And some guts.”
Floreani is among the speakers at the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association’s (TADA) Women Driven event April 12. TADA Executive Director Todd Bourgon said the event was created in 2020 by Mississauga Toyota CEO and a former TADA President Susan Gubasta to boost industry awareness of a group that has been historically underrepresented in the industry and to promote an inclusive environment.
“This wasn’t built because there’s a problem from an advancement perspective that’s been brought to us,” Bourgon said. “It’s about how do we build greater opportunity within an industry that needs talent — period.”