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The massive layoffs General Motors just announced as it restructures to follow market trends toward SUVs, trucks and electric and autonomous vehicles are a shock to the U.S, economy, but you can’t survive over 110 years as GM has – or over a long career – without pivoting . Diana Lee worked her way through college in a car dealership while preparing to go to law school. Law school never happened, though, because she was making too much money at the dealership to switch gears. Thirty years later, she’s still thriving in the industry, having paved her own route as CEO and Cofounder of a digital technology firm serving auto franchisees, called Constellation Agency. Now, she’s helping other women do the same.
Women buy 62% of cars and make 85% of car-buying decisions, yet women hold only 26.7% of auto sector jobs, and it gets worse as you climb the ladder: only 13% of the C-suite is women – including the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra – and “over half of the top 20 companies in this industry have zero women on their executive teams,” according to research firm Catalyst.
Lee can’t understand why more women aren’t taking advantage of the industry’s lucrative opportunities, nor why automakers lack women in leadership, especially since women drive sales (literally).
GM is focused on “the future of personal mobility,” including doubling their investments in electric and autonomous vehicles over the next two years, according to their announcement of the restructuring, with Barra adding, “The industry is changing very rapidly,” on a call with reporters about it. Since the auto industry is one of the most innovative today, and we know that diverse teams drive innovation, dramatically increasing women at all levels of the sector would be a win-win-win – for automakers and dealers, for women with rewarding careers, and for women as consumers.
Lee sees the dearth of women in the auto sector as a huge missed opportunity, so now she’s leveraging her firm’s platform to help more women achieve success in the industry.
Constellation Agency’s new campaign, “Breaking Down Boundaries,” aims to inspire women to seek opportunities in the sector and to follow their own path to do so. It invites women “to make a video about their own experience breaking barriers for women, even it’s not in the automotive industry,” Lee explained.
“The number one thing” that Lee attributes her success to, ”is having enough self-confidence to take the risks, to find the advocates, to ask for the promotion. Without the self-confidence, I don’t think you can get ahead, especially in a male-dominated industry. Because, you have to be that much more confident….you have to believe you deserve that promotion.”
Here are 10 tips from Lee’s story for how women can excel in a male-dominated industry:
- Stay competitive: GM’s restructuring is to follow market trends they see. Lee developed innovative digital marketing tools to follow trends on the marketing side of the business.
- Take risks, speak up: GM and Barra are taking big risks by doing this restructuring and these layoffs now. “The most important thing for women right now in this industry is to take risks…Say what your great idea is and find the people to help you execute those great ideas.” Those ideas can accelerate your career, and those people can become your advocates.
- Seize opportunities: One of the keys to Lee’s success has been taking advantage of opportunities, such as, the chance to demonstrate her firm’s capabilities, or applying to be a communications coach with the General Motors “Coaching for Excellence” program.
- Develop a thick skin: The auto industry “can be very intimidating, because you are one of very few women….Also, because there are groups of good ol’ boys out there and groups of men who are not always appropriate,” Lee explained.
- Be a sponge and diligent: Learn everything you can about the industry and the vehicles you work with. Lee thinks the auto industry “embraces intelligence,” and that smart, hard-working women “can move up quickly” and make a lot of money.
- Observe your colleagues: Lee learned a lot in her early career by watching how her colleagues sold cars – from learning the dealership’s systems, to how to talk to customers – while also developing her own style.
- Ask for what you need: They don’t know what you need to know, so ask – and ask for the promotion, too. “Believe you deserve it,” Lee insisted.
- Help other women: Give opportunities to other women in the industry. She had tremendous support from “a lot of good men in the industry,” but women have historically been less helpful she said. She hopes her “Breaking Down Boundaries” campaign can inspire women to help other women more.
“I think the auto industry is one of those industries where, if you’re diverse and you’re smart, you have an opportunity…(it) will embrace the intelligence and you can move up fairly quickly,” Lee said.
December 24, 2018 at 11:33AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs