More women are needed in the automobile industry, panelists agree

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DEARBORN, Mich. — Breaking news…The automobile business is looking for more talented women. Thousands, if not, millions of jobs are out there. That was the main takeaway at the Automotive News Leading Women Network Conference. It was held on Wednesday afternoon inside The Henry Hotel in Dearborn, Mich.

Seema Pajula serves as the U.S. consumer and industrial products managing partner at Deloitte & Touch LLP. She oversees the work of more than 120,000 professionals including manufacturing, automotive, aerospace and defense, retail, consumer products, travel and hospitality.

“We’re the first professional firm to have a female chairman and CEO,” Pajula explained. “It has to start at the top. We’ve made bold choices to get sponsors. My challenge is making sure that I’m getting to the group and set every single person up for success. I think I’m strong enough to ask for certain things. The education field is doing better by far. Manufacturing and consumer products seem to have not as many female c-suite executives. I think you have to ask for help.”

Four of this year’s 100 Leading Women in the Automobile Industry discussed how they got into the business. In addition, they also talked about some of the challenges facing women in the auto industry and offered advice on how to overcome them. Here are their stories:

Leah Curry is the vice president of manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Indiana. She helps lead the Business Partnering Group Spectrum as part of TMMI’s diversity initiatives and has championed teacher and student internship programs in skilled industrial maintenance at TMMI.

“The manufacturing industry is facing a huge problem with the workforce,” said Curry. “I heard up to 3.5 million career jobs are needed in the next 10 years. We need the diversity of thought and inclusion. We do a lot of Co-op. You go to school and you’re able to work at the same time. Over the past five years, 36 percent have been women.We try to take our co-ops out with us to all of our recruiting fairs so that they can see what is a career like. We try to bring hands-on type of activities too so they can understand what you really do.”

She added: “We feel that we’re in a box. They limit our opportunity. If it’s not you then who? Step up and be that first woman in that position. Are there limits you can work around and overcome? How do you get past them? Each one can be overcome. You can get support from family and friends. We have to give each other that confidence. Just say, ‘I think you’re a great leader.’ One person to say I believe in you and you can do this.”

Lisa Lunsford is the CEO and co-founder of Global Strategic Supply Solutions and the vice president of sales and marketing of Livonia, Mich.-based Deshler Group, which includes GS3. Under her leadership, the manufacturing and engineering company has grown to over 98 employees and generated more than $30 million in revenue over the last two years.

“How do we keep moving forward? We have to act less like queen bees and more like coaches,” Lunsford explained. “A queen bee is a woman who might undermine and not do anything. A coach will bring out the better self of you. A coach reinforces and redefines. A coach removes the obstacles and challenges limited thinking.”

Karen McKemie is the division/regional vice president of Sonic Automotive Group. She oversees five regional vice presidents and over 100 dealerships. McKemie is also involved in recruitment and selection of general managers.

“We’re targeting college grads and they start out washing cars, write service and builds them the skills,” McKemie said. “They emerge ready to have a senior role. We have to push people out of the nest. Time is a problem for a lot of people. Our gender isn’t a liability–it’s nothing but an asset.”

Her advice for women to advance their careers:

  1. Work hard and have a strong work ethic
  2. Never say “No”
  3. Do the things you think you can’t do
  4. Find a male and a female mentor
  5. Get the job done and develop relationships

Maximiliane Straub is chief financial officer and executive vice president of finance, controlling and administration at Robert Bosch LLC. She also serves as the chair elect and treasurer of the board of directors of Inforum, a professional organization focused on creating strategic connections to help advance professional women in Michigan and throughout the Midwest.

“I chose positions that would allow me to work for someone that inspires me and I could learn something new,” Straub explained. “For me that means driving innovation. Bosch has always been a great place to learn and grow. Over 5 years ago, I asked a group of women whether they’d like to work with me. In return I gave them exposure inside and outside the company. Our members have done an outstanding job and they seem to have a lot of fun.”

She added: “Women too often go into support functions. A piece of advice is to accept challenges and not to wait until you’re 100 percent ready for it. If you are willing to take responsibility, people will give you freedom to do much more. You can create your own room to play in. Of course, it always helps to be curious, ask questions and enjoy learning and exploring. The auto industry is a fun, challenging and exciting field. Women are vital to that future.”

Connie Glaser delivered a keynote speech titled “Women Leadership: Dolphin or Shark?” Her keen insights and dynamic presentations have inspired diversity initiatives around the globe — helping thousands of women to succeed, and organization to work together more collaboratively.

“The action in the workplace has changed dramatically,” Glaser explained. “Women were told in the 70’s to dress for success. As we go into the 80’s, we’re starting to see mass infusion of women. Did you have to be a male clone? Being a shark created a makeover. Most women are not like sharks. In fact, we’re different. I venture to think we’re more like dolphins. They are the most intelligent animals of the sea. They are collaborative. They are outstanding communicators.”

Click Here for more information about the Automotive News Leading Women Network Conference.


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Free copies of Automotive News for all conference attendees. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Speakers and guests mingling before the presentations began. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Deloitte & Touche’s Seema Pajula delivered the opening keynote speech. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Students from Warren Mott High School had a chance to interact with speakers during their field trip. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Leah Curry, Vice President of Manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Lisa Lunsford is co-founder and CEO of GS3 Global. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Karen McKemie is division/regional vice president of Sonic Automotive Group. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Maximiliane Straub is CFO and executive vice president of finance, controlling and administration at Robert Bosch LLC. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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Keynote speaker Connie Glaser said that women are more like dolphins than sharks. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)


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