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Are women in the driving seat yet?

Laurence Monneret | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

Women influence almost 80 percent of car buying decisions, but only 16 percent make it to managerial positions in the automotive industry, according to a report on gender diversity by Ernst & Young.

In a survey of 350 business leaders from 51 countries around the world, which included 50 from the auto sector, 56 percent of leaders acknowledge women as a critical source of underutilized talent. For example: Among the 50 largest publicly held auto company suppliers in North America, less than 10 percent of business leaders are women.

Meanwhile, 90 percent of auto companies believe they need to change their approach to attracting, retaining and promoting talent dramatically, while only about 22 percent of auto companies surveyed have structured programs to identify and develop women's careers.

The report's sole focus on the automotive industry stems from the findings that the most insufficient diversity of thought and experience exists in this sector at 38 percent, followed by oil and gas at 44 percent and power & utilities at 52 percent.

"The speed of disruption in automotive is accelerating at a historic pace," Randall Miller, EY's Global Automotive and Transportation Sector leader said in a press statement. "Having the right talent in place to support this disruption is mission critical. With a billion women joining the economy for the first time by 2020, advancing gender diversity can be a major competitive advantage to auto industry players."

The advantage is seen in tackling ongoing volatility in the auto industry. Digitization, regulations, evolving customer needs and new competitors are some of the disruptive trends impacting the business landscape in the automotive industry. This industry lacks diversity and hence business leaders surveyed by EY believe that diversity of thought and experience will be key to navigate the challenge of disruption.


"What it really comes down to is this: do you feel authorized to speak as freely as anyone else? Do you think your opinion is valued as much as anybody else's?" -Victoria McInnis, Vice President, Tax and Audit at General Motors

The report also points to the challenge that men and women don't see the need for gender diversity in the same way. There is a significant gap between what women find valuable in helping them attain leadership positions and what men think women would find valuable. However, an increasing number of automotive companies are now offering leadership positions exclusively for women.

"There is a lot of talk about inclusive cultures," Victoria McInnis, Vice President, Tax and Audit at General Motors, told E&Y in the report. "What it really comes down to is this: do you feel authorized to speak as freely as anyone else? Do you think your opinion is valued as much as anybody else's?"

European diversity

However, it is no secret that there are still very low numbers of women making it to boardrooms. In a similar report on the progress of women on the boards of 600 largest European-listed companies published by European Women on Boards (EWoB), Sweden tops the list in terms of gender diversity, followed by Norway, Belgium, Finland and France, where women make up over 30 percent of board members.

Telecommunications Services make it to the top in board gender diversity in the list of sectors, followed by financial utilities, consumer staples and consumer discretionary sectors.


"I look forward to the day when we no longer have to say, 'She's the first'. That's when society — and people — will have moved on" -Birgit Behrendt, Vice President, global programs and purchasing operations at Ford

The results also show that women have increased their presence as independent non-executive directors, therefore enabling them to exert critical influence over the strategic decision-making of corporations. It analyses the Stoxx 600 companies over the period spanning 2011-2015, which includes leading companies from 17 European countries. The analysis found that the presence of women on boards has increased from an average of 13.9 percent to 25 percent in five years.

While the differences in the development of board of gender diversity in individual industry sectors are smaller, significant gender disparity exists on boards on a country-by-country basis that point to specific factors such as quotas and targets being the key drivers. Out of the 12 largest European markets, five (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Norway) now have mandatory quotas on female board membership and ten have either an optional quota or a comply-or-explain best practice recommendation concerning board gender diversity, the report says.

"I look forward to the day when we no longer have to say, 'She's the first'. That's when society — and people — will have moved on," Birgit Behrendt, Vice President, global programs and purchasing operations at Ford told E&Y in the report.


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