Written by: Christie Coplen, consultant, Spencer Stuart, and member of AutomotiveNEXT

We’re all familiar with the numbers. Study after study finds greater numbers of women “disappearing” at each successive level of most organizations. According to a study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, by the time women reach the SVP level, they hold just 20 percent of the line roles that are the most likely to lead to the C-Suite. That number dips to 16 percent for women in automotive and industrial manufacturing. Ethnic and racial minorities also are underrepresented at all levels of leadership. Research has found that of executives one to three levels below the CEO, only 8 percent were Asian males, and black and Hispanic leaders of both genders combined constituted less than 7 percent.

The sheer scale of systemic change required to make meaningful progress in diverse representation in leadership roles can seem overwhelming. A question I hear often is: “Where do we begin?” Here are some practical steps senior leaders and their organizations can take now to improve diversity and inclusion.

Be the change
Many leaders we talk with have attested to the power of setting an example. Leaders in functions from human resources to legal are building diverse teams of their own as a model for the rest of the organization. Prioritize diversity on your own team and communicate wins to the broader organization to help reinforce the message that diverse teams are successful teams.

Remove unconscious bias in assessment
We are all biologically inclined to like and trust people similar to us. Despite a desire to improve diversity and be more inclusive, unconscious bias can undermine these efforts whether candidates are being considered for promotion or hired externally. A key way to combat this is to agree on a common vernacular about what capabilities are needed for success — such as openness to learning and change management — rather than going with “gut feelings” on culture fit or traits that have little to do with performance in the job.

An effective assessment scores leaders on an objective set of leadership capabilities, so individuals can be directly compared to one another and to the requirements of the role, as well as fit with the company’s current culture or the one that it’s building.

Examine your search criteria when hiring
Use gender-neutral language in the job description and presentation materials. Research shows that even seemingly insignificant word choices such as “rock star,” “guru” or “work hard, play hard” can deter female candidates. In addition, require that each search have a diverse slate of candidates and hold your colleagues accountable if their candidate pools reflect the status quo. For example, SAP has talked about how its leaders must present dashboards each quarter with both business and people results.

Support diverse talent
Hiring more diverse leaders is only half the battle. The onboarding experience is especially important for diverse candidates entering a non-diverse environment. At a recent event we hosted for HR leaders, Marcelo Modica, chief people officer at Mercer, and Erika Irish Brown, chief diversity officer at Goldman Sachs, advised that organizations need to embrace diverse talent early in their transition to the company and help them feel like they are part of the organization. Without the inclusion component, Brown cautioned that retention becomes a problem: “Without inclusion, you have people who want to leave because they don’t feel they have a voice, they don’t fit in with the culture and they don’t have contemporaries who are showing them where the hidden landmines are or helping them understand the culture.”

Set up diverse talent with sponsors who can help them navigate the unwritten rules of the culture and serve as a support system. In addition, give diverse talent exposure and visibility with top management. When people see that the organization is invested in their success and that they have opportunities for advancement, they are more likely to stay.

Commit at the C-level
While it may seem rote, tone at the top really does make a difference. We were fortunate enough to talk about this very issue with Julia Steyn, vice president of urban mobility programs and Maven at General Motors Corporation. She shared how GM CEO Mary Barra brings together the senior women in the company and challenges them to think about how to encourage women to develop the women behind them. The CEO’s direct attention on increasing diversity is a powerful force for change. “I don’t think anything happens by accident. You have to have an intent to change, and this senior leadership team and the leadership team before have had the intention to move the needle on diversity and the behaviors of the company,” said Steyn.

Consider the culture
In order to talk about diversity and inclusion, there needs to be a safe space for that conversation. The organization’s culture can help create that space. (For a deeper dive on organizational culture, our guide is one of HBR’s 10 Must Reads of 2019.) Understanding the culture and how it may encouraging or discouraging diversity is important, as is gaining agreement about the kind of culture the organization wants to build. To truly transform the composition of a company’s workforce and leadership, organizations have to be willing to be bold.


Christie Coplen is a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s Industrial and Automotive practices, and a member of the firm’s Leadership Advisory Services team. She has extensive experience in digital and technology roles.

Written by: Gene Oswalt, Vice President, Benefits, Compensation, M&A, Robert Bosch LLC, and Vice-Chair, AutomotiveNEXT

What is my passion?  Mentoring others.  Why? It’s like giving a gift, and being able to watch someone open it—the joy really is in the giving.  I also think of mentoring as my way to “Pay It Forward.”

When I was in an early leadership role, and was struggling with a particular challenge, my boss showed me a piece of paper that he had taped above his desk.  On it were these words:

Good judgment comes as a result of experience.

Experience comes as a result of bad judgment.

There is no shortcut to maturity—it comes one day at a time.

He then gave me the piece of paper, which has been taped to every desk or office wall I’ve had ever since—for more than twenty years.  How fortunate I was to have that leader reach down, and let me know that I would make mistakes along the way—and that I should not be impatient about having all of the right answers at once.

I certainly believe in learning on one’s own.  There is value in the school of hard knocks, but I also believe in helping others avoid some of my missteps to make the path a bit smoother, and allow them to spend their energy on bigger challenges.

What’s my approach? What does mentoring entail for me?  Sometimes I just offer a listening ear.  Often I’m sharing a different perspective—whether from a different role, location, department, generation, country, or even a different company.  Sometimes I’m helping guide others through a challenge by asking questions so they can discover the best options in the situation.  And yes, sometimes I’m sharing a mistake I made, and recommending they not do the same.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, and cannot promise everything will work out the way they want, but I can help them avoid one or two pieces of bad judgment.

When I am asked to support a mentoring initiative, I always participate.  Others say it takes time they may not have—and I’ve often been in that scheduling nightmare.  However, I do my best to make time—whether formal appointments, breakfast, a walk, coffee, or a late night phone call.    What do I get from this investment of time?  I am able to revel in the growth and successes of those I mentor.  Often tables are turned and I learn from my mentee.  Some have had careers blossom in a direction that they may not have expected.  Others have continued on the path they were on, passing me by.  Selfishly, I know that in each of these situations, I played a role in their success.

Early in my career, I wasn’t comfortable asking questions or talking about my career development with others higher in the organization.  At that time, we didn’t have formal mentoring programs.  My informal mentors were busy people who I really admired and whose time I didn’t want to “waste.”  If I could roll back the clock, it would be to ask for time, and to use that time to ask for more advice – both short- and long-term.  I am certain they would have provided both time and advice willingly.

As I participate in changing the face of leaders in the automotive industry, I can share my early inhibitions and experiences with younger women in automotive careers.  Through that, I can impart upon them the value of asking for, and sharing advice with others.  Good judgment will still require experience, but it will come a lot faster, and more women will be on the fast track.


Written by: Joan Hart, Vice President, Corporate Program Management & Process Excellence, ZF Group and executive committee member, AutomotiveNEXT.

Visibility is a good thing, right? Harvard Business Review points out the challenges women face when visible and three reasons why some women choose to stay out of the spotlight:

  • Avoiding backlash in the workplace
  • Finding professional authenticity
  • Parenthood pressures


What will it take to maximize the potential of all employees and realize this closing comment? “To achieve workplace equality, we need to redesign organizations — not the women who work in them.”

In the meantime, there are some things women can do to help drive needed change. Lean In shared ideas on how women (and, frankly, all employees) can support each other to overcome biases. https://leanin.org/tips/workplace-ally

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Written by: Elizabeth Griffith, Director of Engineering – GM Global, Faurecia Interiors, and chair, AutomotiveNEXT.

As a woman leader, I have always found it important to share information – particularly statistics. This article published in Fortune continues to analyze gender parity discrepancies – 70,000 survey respondents from 222 companies comprising more than 12 million employees. Of significance is the accompanying article by Sheryl Sandberg stressing how much more work needs to be done. Please read and share your thoughts.


‘Women account for 47% of entry-level employees, but only one-third of senior managers and one-fifth of C-suite executives. For women of color, the drop-off is even steeper. Women of color hold 17% of entry-level positions, but just 8% of senior manager jobs and 3% of C-suite roles.

It’s not driven by the pipeline — women have earned more college degrees than men for more than 30 years — or by the desire to put careers on hold to raise children. Fewer than 2% of women surveyed plan to leave the workforce to focus on family, according to the report.

In an op-ed about the findings for The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Sandberg argues that in order to move closer to gender parity, we need to realize how much work remains to be done.

Written by: Elizabeth Griffith, Director of Engineering – GM Global, Faurecia Interiors, and chair, AutomotiveNEXT.