Category Archives: women in the motor industry

Does gender balance matter?

Gender balance in the UK motor industryGiven the choice I prefer to call a spade a spade but when you are talking about equality and gender differences in a business context ‘political correctness’ will often take the lead, even when the business case is clear. Take the new and increasingly used phrase ‘gender balance’ for example…

Don’t we all know that a business with a happy male and female workforce is a healthier one?

We are now told that it is a wealthier one too in terms of profits.

As you might expect, the EU has something to say about all this. In a move to influence businesses that aren’t employing enough women in senior roles (for economic reasons), MEPS are calling for an increase in female representation at management level. From a challenging 30% by 2015 to 40% by 2020. This is a welcome initiative says EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

The gender balance business case

Apparently ‘gender balance’ (ie where there is a fair balance of men and women) in top positions contributes to improved business performance, competitiveness and economic gains. A report by McKinsey found that gender-balanced companies have a 56% higher operating profit compared to male-only companies. This is supported by Ernst & Young research. They looked at the 290 largest publicly-listed companies and found that the earnings at companies with at least one woman on the board were significantly higher than in those that had no female board member.

It seems that a lack of women in top business jobs can therefore hamper a company’s performance, an industry in turn, then the country and now, we are told, Europe’s competitiveness and economic growth. Which is why several EU member states – notably Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain – have started to address the situation by adopting legislation that introduces gender quotas for company boards. And why others including Denmark, Finland, Greece, Austria and Slovenia, have adopted rules on gender balance for the boards of state-owned companies.

But who would want to be the token female to make up the quota? Much better to set targets and report (compare and contrast) on performance levels by industry I believe.

Gender balance in the UK

The UK government appointed Lord Davies to lead a review into the reasons why there aren’t more women on UK company boards. In 2011 he recommended that UK listed companies in the FTSE 100 should aim for a minimum of 25% female board members by 2015.

He suggested sensible targets for 2013 and 2015 to ensure that more talented women can get into the top jobs in UK companies.

On the basis of these recommendations the government is now encouraging all FTSE 350 companies to set out the percentage of women they aim to have on their boards in 2013 and by 2015.

Just for the record women now make up 14% of FTSE 100 directors, up from 12.5 % in 2010. There’s a long way to go.

Gender balance in the UK motor industry

The UK motor industry is a case in point. How wonderful it would be if Lord Davies’ recommendations would be adopted and exceeded here. Very few of the leading dealership groups have one let alone more than one female Executive Director on the Board and we certainly don’t want to see a spread of a few professional Non Executive Directors tolerated simply to tick the ‘gender balance’ token book at Board level. NEDs may have the right experience and may say the right thing but, regardless of gender, they cannot ‘feel’ a Group culture in the way that employees can, nor can they influence it from within.

Interestingly when I speak to leading motor group CEOs they invariably tell me they are a female friendly business, usually justifying this because they employ female managers. When I then talk to these female managers (in strict confidence) very few agree that the business is genuinely female friendly. I am left to deduce that these (always feisty) females have got where they are because they are not just the best ‘man’ for the job but also because they have been prepared to fight to prove it throughout their careers. Which few women are, given a more female friendly industry choice…

The solution may be the ‘coming soon’ Female Friendly Approved website and service. We will be offering consultancy advice, a holistic FEMALE FRIENDLY audit, training programme and an accreditation programme for motor industry groups that genuinely want to
+ recruit and retain more females
+ deliver female friendly service levels for their customers in future (and delighting men in the process).

Providing the industry and its individual businesses have a strategic commitment to getting service levels right for female staff and customers in future, the necessary steps to change an all-male business culture can then begin in earnest. This will involve a training programme which should start at the very top of each and every organisation, recognising that not all women want to compete with men on male terms.

The opportunity cost for the motor industry is a high one at present. It is losing the best qualified (female) talent to other more female friendly industries simply because of its male-oriented culture and image. This is illustrated by Cranfield School of Management’s recent research findings that many more women than men report they have dealt with gender-based barriers by leaving employers or changing careers.

There is an urgent need to address the lacklustre male-dominated image of the motor industry so that it is seen to welcome women as employees for their natural talents; not just to promote the determined few who are willing to outbloke men and become too like them (in my opinion) as they move on up the ladder.


Sally brings fleet sales experience to Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz UK has appointed Sally Dennis as National Fleet Sales Manager in a strategic move to delight existing customers and capture more of this important market.

Sally is to manage accounts with fleets of over 300 vehicles for key blue chip brands, as well as strengthening links with the contract hire and leasing industry. Commenting on her role, Sally said:

“I am passionate about delivering the best experience for our customers, not least because I spent over eight years in the retail market so I understand the high service levels clients expect and deserve.”

As well as being a role model to other women following in her wake, Sally brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this role. Most recently, she was National Fleet Sales Manager at SEAT UK, growing record sales and market share within the fleet and business markets, as well as raising awareness, customer satisfaction and loyalty. Prior to that, she was the UK Key Account Manager at Audi UK, where she was responsible for the UK’s top 30 accounts, working strategically with the retailer network and VW Group Fleet International.

Macho culture in UK motor industry

I can’t resist downloading the latest Annual Accounts from leading car manufacturers and UK dealership Groups to spot how many female Executive Directors they employ.

The way I see it – how can the motor industry improve its macho image in the minds of so many influential women (customers and potential employees) until it starts to recruit women ‘like us’ at the top and throughout the organisation, affecting the business culture and working conditions for all.

25% female by 2015?

I would love to see the UK motor industry leading the field here towards Lord Davies’ aspirational 25% female Board representation by 2015. But I can’t see it happening as things stand, because it’s a rare Board to have more than one female Executive Board member and she is more likely to be in a supporting (Human Resources or Secretary) role than one that can lead the business strategically.

And speaking from personal experience (gained in the shipping industry) it’s hard to be the only female NED in a sea of males who prefer the status quo!

Whether it’s an Executive or Non Executive Directorship in the motor industry, how good it would be if more Chairmen would determine to create a more female friendly working environment so that less determined but just as talented women staff could find it easier to make it to the top in future.

As things stand, the female talent is going into other more female friendly industries – what a waste of some of the best qualified graduates in the UK.

I am also surprised by the number of CEOs who tell me, always proudly, that they run a female friendly business. Leaving aside the paucity of females on their Board for now, when I ask their female Senior Managers, few agree. I tend to trust the women more than the CEO here who invariably thinks that women want to be treated the same as men. Which is a fundamental mistake in terms of customer service!

According to the 30% club; a group of chairmen voluntarily committed to bringing more women onto UK boards…
+ 15% of FTSE 100 board directorships are held by women
+ 18 FTSE 100 companies have no female directors at all
+ Nearly half of all FTSE 250 companies do not have a woman in the boardroom
+ Based on this progress it would take 70 years to balance the sexes in our Boardrooms.

Clearly we can’t wait that long if we want the motor industry to thrive in our lifetime…

A female friendly industry makeover

I believe the UK motor industry needs to set ambitious Board and workforce diversity recruitment targets that are then reviewed on an annual basis. Tactics that work well for some (in terms of Board diversity and skills/results) can become best practice benchmarks for others. And I hope that the industry would then see new opportunities to polish its lacklustre image in the minds of female motorists.

No quotas though. Who wants to be that token female Non Executive Director tolerated by men and who treat her as such?


PS: What a waste of so much highly qualified female talent when the likes of the motor industry is perceived to be so male dominated that most women don’t want to work there.

Foxy karting face of Caterham Motorsport

Caterham Motorsport has appointed 20-year old karting ace, Laura Tillett, to help develop a new karting championship in 2013.

Laura was the first British female to compete in the ‘KF1’ World Championship, the karting equivalent of Formula One, following considerable success on the British scene.

Having just joined Caterham last week she will be heavily involved in their kart series project as Caterham Motorsport Manager, Simon Lambert, explains.

“We’re delighted to welcome Laura on board. Her expert knowledge of the karting world will be invaluable in helping us set up a uniquely accessible championship. Laura will be working on every aspect of the series, from race formats to technical specifications and from venues to organisational know-how.”

Caterham unveiled its ambitions to run a karting championship and with 25 years of experience running low-cost, high-value one-make racing series cars, it now has the ‘ladder’ to potentially take young racing drivers from entry-level motorsport karting to the pinnacle of Formula 1.

How to make a male dominated industry more female friendly

The UK motor industry could learn a lesson or two from the UK’s transport and logistics sector where an ever increasing number of females are holding top jobs in areas of regulation and operations.

If you scrape the surface to see what this sector might have done that’s different from the motor industry you find the Freight Logistics Industry Image Group and where much of the praise is probably due for the following achievements…

1    The 2.2 million work force in the transport and logistics sector (including lady truckers) includes some 25 per cent of women, with growing numbers of female managers, drivers, engineers, transport office and other staff in all disciplines.

2    The sector is actively looking to recruit more women.

3    Top political and regulatory jobs held by women include:
Secretary of State for Transport – Justine Greening
Minister of State for Transport – Theresa Villiers
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport – Maria Eagle
Chair, Commons Transport Select Committee – Louise Ellman
Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport – Lin Homer
Acting Senior Traffic Commissioner – Beverley Bell

4    On the operational side, amongst thousands of senior female managers, leading personalities include Dragons’ Den’s Hilary Devey, the Chairman and CEO of Pall-Ex; Nikki King, the Managing Director of Isuzu Trucks UK; Jane Burkitt, Pepsico Supply Chain Director; Moya Greene, Chief Executive, Royal Mail Group; and Kay Phillips, CEO, GeoPost Worldwide.

5    Earlier this year the three name short-list for the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport prestige ‘Young Manager of the Year’ award contained three women.

Geoff Dossetter chairs the Freight Logistics Industry Image Group and explains “The logistics industry is an essential element in the whole of our economy and plays a vital role in the day to day way in which we live our lives, delivering the goods and services on which we all rely and enjoy.  It should therefore not be surprising that the sector is leading the way in providing an attractive and rewarding career structure for women in all disciplines and at all levels from warehouse to boardroom and we welcome further recruits as the economy recovers from recession and the movement of goods increases.”

Group member Kate Gibbs from the Road Haulage Association said “The achievement of so many women in reaching the top in our industry should act as an encouragement to all.  Logistics is an equal-opportunity sector and the sky is the limit for talented and enthusiastic women.”

The five members of the Freight Logistics Industry Image Group are the British Association of Removers, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, and the sector skills council Skills for Logistics.

As I see it, this is a forward thinking industry initiative that deserves recognition and which proves that women WILL consider careers in industries that they might have dismissed previously, providing they see female role models and are made to feel welcome.

The UK motor industry would do well to study this initiative and learn from it to all round mutual effect. If anything it is more important to recruit women into garage and showroom careers to improve the poor image that these industry sectors suffer from in the eyes of many female customers. And to improve the bottom line as a direct consequence of female loyalty and referrals.