LAS VEGASWhile the tire and automotive industries are still deemed a man's world, that was not apparent during a Shattering the Glass Ceiling panel held at the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas.
Four women from varying parts of the auto and tire industries came together for a women-only discussion: Freda Pratt-Boyer, senior auditor at Purcell Tire & Rubber Co. who just finished her term as president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA); Michelle Krebs, director of automotive relations, Autotrader.com Inc.; Audrey Zavodsky, Ford Motor Co. and professional race car driver; and Jean Jennings, president and editor-in-chief of JeanKnowsCars.com.
The panel was moderated by Erin Gilhuly, TRD business administrator at Toyota Motor Sales.
My lesson learned is never give up, Ms. Zavodsky said. The all-female panel shared their stories in the auto and auto-related industries and gave advice to other women perhaps considering careers.
With Ms. Pratt-Boyer's TIA presidency coming to an endshe continues for one year as past-presidentshe encouraged other females in the tire industry to step up.
I challenge any lady in this room who is involved in the tire industry to take a look at the Tire Industry Association, she said. By the bylaws of the association, I am past president for this year and then I have to leave the association for a while. So that means we have a seat on the board of directors that is open.
Currently, there are no women to fill the open position, Ms. Pratt-Boyer said, noting that women bring an entirely different perspective to the board of directors.
I want you all to realize that...you can be from anywhere, big or small, and you are what you make yourself to be.
She never thought in 1972 at the start of her career with Purcell Tire that she would be speaking on an all-female panel at the SEMA Show, nor did she dream she would be president of a tire industry trade group.
But you know what? I'm there. I did, she said. So I want you all to realize as you take steps throughout your life, you can take whatever stands before you and make it what it should be for you.
Ms. Pratt-Boyer credits part of her success to her strong mentors. She said that while she has great respect for many people in the business world, there are four people in her trusted circle whom she considers mentors.
My mentors have been the most important to me in my career, she said.
Make them be the people that respect you and make you be the person you want to be. Choose them wisely; never let them go.
Ms. Zavodsky agreed that the role of mentoring is important. She suggested taking a look at not only women in leadership positions in the session, but female leaders like Mary Barra, CEO at General Motors Co., Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo! Inc. and Virginia Rometty, chairman, president and CEO at International Business Machines (IBM) Corp.
She suggested taking risks at organizations that value innovation, but don't take as many if the company is more analytical and conservative. Be aware of what you need to do to fit into that organization, she said, while showing you have the ability to do the job.
Also determine your career direction, Ms. Zavodsky said. Be proactive. Look for opportunities. Reach out. Build your networks.
She also suggested getting involved with cross-functional teams or projects. These ventures may stretch a person, but can show off their capabilities in a way that would not be possible without the opportunity. Additionally, find an ally at the company to talk to who is trustworthy, she added, and/or find a professional coach.
Have a learning mindset. This is all a journey for us, Ms. Zavodsky said. We make it what we want it to be.
Ms. Jennings said that at one time her own insecurity caused her to be harsh to people who worked for her who made mistakes she knew she wouldn't make.
I just hated myself, and it was quite a struggle to understand my own insecurity and pull out of it. I can offer you a shortcut: Hire people who are better than you and appreciate them.
When leading, don't forget to give feedback when it is needed, she advised.
A well-placed word when people have failed will make a much bigger impact than a compliment when they already know they've done well, Ms. Jennings said. And then celebrate them at every turn.
Ms. Krebs said part of finding the balance as a manager is to pick the right battles.
Put yourself in the other person's shoes and figure out how they would go about (a task) or how they would want to be treated, Ms. Zavodsky said. That always helps for me.
Ms. Gilhuly addressed the topic of women not applying for a promotion until they are 100-percent sure they are ready, while men will start going after something if they are 60-percent ready.
Don't settle for less, Ms. Zavodsky said. Be able to sell yourself. Get out there. Show people that you have the capabilities to do things.
Along with working for Ford, she has been a professional race car driver for about eight years. She reaffirmed that it's a male-dominated field in anything related to the automotive industry.
That is a given. That is a good thing for us, she said about being in a male-dominated atmosphere. That will make us better people because we prove ourselves over and over that we have the competence and ability to do things.
Ms. Krebs added that she thinks women have to be extra-prepared. You really have to do a lot more homework and show them you know your stuff.
However, she advised to just keep showing up, performing and delivering results. Perseverance is probably the biggest thing she has learned from being in the industry.
Ms. Jennings spoke about the time she decided she wanted to be a cab driver. I couldn't afford the upkeep, so I taught myself how to work on (the taxi), she said.
It took her about four hours to give the vehicle its first tune-up, she said, which should have taken 20 minutes. She also gave the car a brake job by parking it on the curb in front of her house and taking it apart, drawing a picture of every piece, then lining them up on the sidewalk so she could put it back together correctly.
It was the best brake job that car ever had, Ms. Jennings said. Success isn't a given. Failure isn't fatal.
Ms. Jennings later got a job at the Chrysler Proving Ground when she said Chrysler was forced to hire more women.
The firm created the positions to get more women into the company, she said, and they would test the cars and write a reportwhich she surmised ended up being thrown away. There was no way to advance and she described it as a total fake job.
She continued, But I'm here to tell you, you should take opportunities when they present themselves. When it works to your advantage to be a woman, take it. And if it gets in your way, ignore it.
Ms. Pratt-Boyer explained that as company auditor, she may be called to fill in as a manager at any given time.
I think the most valued training for me was the day-to-day training I have been fortunate to receive, she said.
She has managed all segments of Purcell Tire's business, including retail and commercial stores, its wholesale operation, and even helped to set up a retread plant.
As company auditor, I've not always had the best reception from the managers, Ms. Pratt-Boyer acknowledged. You can imagine a woman walking in the door and telling you you're doing it wrong.... I've never been any taller than I am today. One time I actually stood on top of a desk so I could look the guy straight in the face.
Being a female in the industry can be tough as one tries to get the respect of male counterparts. Ms. Zavodsky said for some men, no matter how you say it or what you say, they will still have an attitude.
In the racing community, she said some men will jump on her bandwagon and be huge supporters of her capabilities, while others will never be. Yet, it is gratifying when the respect deserved is given.
Because life is all about proving yourself over and over...it will not end, but just accept that, she said, adding that she has learned not to say what she can do, but rather show people her capabilities.
Ms. Pratt-Boyer shared a similar sentiment.
I had to gain their respect and I did do that, she said. And I do have their respect. I really feel that a woman in the industry has to work harder, but gains more knowledge because we want to know in a different way. I've always asked the 'why' and did whatever it took to learn the answer.
And if all else fails, take the negative attitude received to drive success within.
I learned to take the hardness and criticism and turn it into a drive that helped me to succeed, Ms. Pratt-Boyer said.
If only the one manager who told me that I would not succeed because I couldn't conduct business at a urinal would have known that his comment would be a driving force for me to be more successful than he, maybe he would have thought twice before he spoke.
You just have to work the system to (your advantage). That's just an example of how I handle the male-dominated industry. I took it as a personal and internal challenge to do more and be better than my male counterparts. I didn't, and still won't dwell on the work condition differences. I just don't have time for that.
Anyone in business makes mistakes, but learning from them can be a key to one's success.
My mistake was I was married to my job, Ms. Zavodsky admitted.
I put in so much time that I didn't leave time for myself or my family. And if I would have continued in that direction, then it would have affected me health wise.
Creating time for oneself and family is important, she said. And fitting in work and family at the same timelike her time at the track with her husbandis a bonus.
If you don't make mistakes, you're not doing anythingthey're not really mistakes but opportunities, Ms. Pratt-Boyer said.
Additionally, sometimes emotion can affect judgment, so Ms. Pratt-Boyer advises taking 24 hours before making a decision. You're going to have that emotion right at the moment, and if you rely on that emotion at the moment, you're going to make a mistake.
Ms. Jennings said giving too much for no apparent reason is a mistake. She also advised that during times of trouble, leave emotions at home. Make the case for profits and colleagues will listen.
An additional point she made was: Don't work for people you can't stand.... It'll just suck the life right out of you.
Ms. Krebs said she once had a boss who told her that she needed to set the course for her career; however, she had a different philosophy. She thought she wouldn't know what she wanted until she dabbled in various areas. However, that same boss gave her some good advice when he said that if one's brain has mentally checked out of a job, don't let your body be far behind.
One audience memberwho works with students coming up in the automotive fieldssaid she often sees women getting discouraged and eventually changing their majors.
Ms. Pratt-Boyer said while the tire industry is a man's world, she is seeing more and more women as store managers, service writers, technicians and salespeople.
When we go to selling and marketing seminars, we have whole segments on how to market to women, she said. There are more women making important purchasing decisions in households than ever before. So why are there fewer women working in the automotive-related fields?
In my perspective, as a woman whose been working in automotive for more than 20 years, I believe educational disparities, sociological pressures and the auto industry's reputation as a man's world have deterred more women from entering into the field.
Ms. Jennings said she had a time in her career when she got discouraged and told herself she could always go back to driving a cab. However, that thought lingered only a moment and she slammed the door to it because she knew she didn't really want to go back.
While dealing with men in the industry can sometimes be a struggle, audience and panelists alike discussed the issue of some women tearing down others within in the industry.
Ms. Krebs called it the Queen Bee Syndromewhere some women like being the only woman in the room. This is another reason why mentoring is so important.
It's a terrible disease and it's something that we have to constantly and actively say to ourselves: 'We have to mentor women,' Ms. Jennings said.
We have to spread our own word, said Ms. Pratt-Boyer, referencing TIA's all-female auto certification program instituted this year.
Anytime someone says you can't do it, Ms. Zavodsky added, then women should reach down and show we can do it.
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com; 330-865-6143; Twitter: @jenniferkarpus