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Women have made significant gains in representation, especially at the senior level, according to the latest “Women in the Workplace 2021″ study from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org., but the auto sector remains male dominated from assembly and parts production to sales and senior management. Five trail-blazing Canadian women are trying to change that and breaking down barriers in the industry. We asked them what’s the secret to their success?

Eva Wiese, President and CEO, Mercedes-Benz Canada

Eva Wiese.Handout

Wiese, 47, is the first female president and chief executive of Mercedes-Benz Canada.

What’s the secret to your success?

“I don’t have any problems delegating. I’m a big fan of empowerment. The way I try to lead people is how I like to be led. That’s the most authentic way you can be a leader. I’m empowered and I try to empower my people. They can go, run, and do everything on their own and they come back to me if they have real issues. If they need my support, I’m here. If they don’t, they simply keep going.”

Why is diversity important?

“It’s great to have young and ambitious people at the table, but also some experienced, maybe more relaxed people. The difference is a benefit. Diversity improves the bottom line.”

What legacy do you want to leave behind?

“The best footprint I can have is look for talents, discover talents, challenge them and make them grow.”

Erin Buchanan, General Manager Manufacturing, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada

Erin Buchanan.Courtesy of manufacturer

Buchanan, 47, is one of the few women who run an auto manufacturing plant in North America.

What’s the secret to your success?

“I’m willing to try things I know nothing about and I’m not be afraid to jump into something with both feet. Women tend to self disqualify if they don’t think they meet 200 per cent of the qualifications. I’m that rare woman. I’ll jump in.”

Have you had to work differently than your male counterparts?

“Yes, absolutely. I can’t say that my entire journey has been easy. I’ve had to try and navigate the world where people might not think that I should have a seat at the table. I have to force myself to the table. I work very hard to lift up other females in this industry because women, historically it’s in our genetics to push each other down, to reach the top of the pyramid. We can’t push other women down. We have to bring each other up and everybody rises together.”

Why aren’t more women in automotive?

“A car factory is a diverse group of people. It’s very representative of our communities, but as soon as you enter that first layer of front line supervision, like management, we have a gender disparity. We have to move the needle on that and be more intentional to encourage women to step up for those front line supervisor positions. The reality is we’re going to have a skilled trade shortage and we need to bring females into STEM fields. The worse thing would be to bring in these female talents and have them leave if they don’t feel valued or included.”

Lauren Tedesco, Senior Vice President, Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association

Lauren Tedesco.Handout

Tedesco, 37, is the first female in a management position in the APMA’s 70-year history.

What’s it like to be the first female in a management position at the APMA?

“It’s hard to be the first female anything – in automotive, tech, skilled trades or any space that might be male dominated. Often times, hard work goes unnoticed and women can often get deterred and think, what’s the point? There’s no one who looks like me. I can’t find any mentors. But being able to carve out that space and work your way up from entry level to middle management to the top – it does so much for the women who follow in your space. It’s a heavy load to carry, but it’s important to demonstrate as long as you keep banging on that glass ceiling it is going to shatter.”

What’s the secret to your success?

“I come from politics and now automotive, which are both heavily male-dominated. I learned how to be proud of the work that I do in my accomplishments. Oftentimes, women are a bit quieter on that front or don’t want to be at the forefront. Put your elbows up and make space for yourself – that’s what I learned early on in my career. Go forward and be proud to take up that space.”

Why is diversity important?

“Diversity of people is also diversity of thought. It’s really important to change the way companies think. It’s no longer good enough to say we can’t find qualified women. It needs to be a self reflection and asking why aren’t more women attracted to our company or our industry? We need to have that uncomfortable conversation.”

“We’re at a point in history where the entire sector is going to pivot – to tech, electrification, the future of cars, self-driving – and if we don’t have the right people doing those jobs, Canada will fall behind. That investment in getting the right people, more women, more people of colour, it ties into our goal of competitiveness and how long the Canadian auto sector will be able to survive and thrive.”

Raquel Urtasun, Founder and CEO, Waabi and Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto

Raquel Urtasun.Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

Urtasun is one of the few women who run a technology company in North America. After her previous role as chief scientist and head of research and development at Uber, she launched her own self-driving startup, Waabi, raising US$83.5-million.

What’s the secret to your success?

“It’s a combination of very strategic problem solving, never ever giving up, and building an incredible team around me. Because it’s not about me, it’s about what together we can do.”

As a women, have you faced many challenges over the course of your career?

“Often times as a woman you need to do ten times more to be recognized for the same thing. That’s a challenge in itself.”

“As you go in many of these [male-dominated] fields, there is always difficult moments, moments where it’s easy to say, I’m going to do something else, but my attitude has always been, how can I solve this problem? Sure it’s hard. But we can do it.”

How have you dealt with stereotypes and biases in your career?

“Often times, people focus on lets hire a woman or diversity in general. It’s not about how many leaders you have, it’s about, do you have a path for them to be reaching up?”

What legacy do you want to leave behind?

“When I retire one day, I want to look back and say that all this effort and all the things I did were for a reason and impacted the world in a positive manner. We provided change. We provided opportunities for people. We provided a better life for people.”

Tammy Roach, Dealer Principal, Charlottetown Mitsubishi

Tammy Roach.Handout

Roach, who turns 50 this year, is the only female dealer principal in P.E.I. and the only female owner out of Mitsubishi Canada’s 94 dealerships across Canada.

What’s the secret of your success?

“It’s more important to me for my customers and my staff to be happy and feel like they’ve been treated right than profit. Because profit will follow. Don’t get me wrong – I own a business, I have to pay my staff. I still want to be successful, but I need my integrity intact.”

Is the auto industry changing since you started two decades ago?

“When I was a service manager it was unheard of to have a female service manager and I’d go into meetings and the whole room would literally stop and stare at me. I see it changing on a higher corporate level. When I go to corporate meetings, I see more women in the room, which is awesome. I don’t see it as much at ground level. I’d like to see more in sales. I don’t have women applying a lot. I don’t know if they think they need to know about cars. To me, selling is selling.”

What’s your advice to attract more women and diversity to the auto industry?

“My advice is it’s top down. It’s up to me as a dealer principal to make sure that my team is willing to train, guide and nurture anybody – whether they’re female, transgender, LGBQT or whatever the case maybe. It’s top down. They’re following my lead.”

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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