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Ontario Centre of Innovation
How women are powering progress in the auto sector

Success Stories

How women are powering progress in the auto sector

If you open almost any newspaper or magazine covering the automotive sector, the front-page often focuses on vehicle electrification. This is for good reason: the climate crisis is real, and automakers are literally racing towards both corporate and the UN’s Sustainable Development goals to dramatically lower the overall carbon footprint of cars and trucks by 2030.

But there’s another sustainable resource that can shape the future of the automotive and mobility sector: women. That’s right, women.

Women are helping power the industry’s shift to sustainability since many are employed across the sector, with the Ontario government hoping to increase the proportion of women as the sector expands. As reported in a 2020 report from Deloitte[1] titled Women at the wheel, women make up about half of the total labour force, but only a quarter of the automotive manufacturing workforce1. Women like Amanda Sayers are working diligently to change that.

As the Director of Skills, Talent and Workforce Development at the Ontario Centre of Innovation (and a 2021 McKinsey Achievement Award Winner), Amanda leads and designs Ontario’s automotive sector talent strategy. She manages an all-female team that executes this strategy, and one of their key mandates is attracting and training underrepresented talent in a sector that many don’t immediately consider for their career. With significant public investment from the Ontario provincial government and approximately $12.5 billion in electric vehicle and EV battery investments from automotive manufacturing giants like Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, and Honda[1], it is a prime time for women to move into the industry.

“The Skills, Talent, and Workforce Development Team is making a concerted effort to positively change the statistics for women in auto. From how we design our programs, courses, tools, discussions, and research – we factor in how to attract and retain a more diverse talent pool talent. There are many exciting years to come for the industry and with that will come many opportunities for women.”

As part of OCI, the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN) is the province’s flagship initiative to drive economic development and catalyze a future that builds safer, cleaner, and more efficient transportation. It also supports the development of a sustainable and future-ready workforce that includes the expertise of women and other equity-deserving groups. With its Talent Strategy & Roadmap, OVIN positions Ontario’s automotive and mobility sector for long-term success by outlining key objectives and initiatives to develop a highly skilled, adaptable, and diverse workforce in the sector. Such efforts will be reinforced by a world-leading network that provides tailored and responsive initiatives to meet the workforce’s evolving needs. Many of the sector’s workforce development needs can be met by engaging more women and equity-deserving groups from across the province.

OVIN’s Skills & Career Navigator platform is another tool developed and designed to help Ontarians who are interested or currently working in the automotive and mobility sector to better understand the sector’s transition, and to navigate learning and career pathways based on their unique experiences and skill sets.

There are many opportunities for women to advance in careers on the factory floor – and beyond – including Engineering, IT, Human Resources and Management.

To compete globally, the industry needs to keep diversifying its workforce. Diversity fosters innovation, with the companies that attract the most talented and diverse workforce succeeding as the world evolves at an increasing pace. And the industry’s leaders know it.

“Competition breeds excellence when we can open up the field of play, and give everyone the chance to compete”, said Cheryl Thompson, founder of the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion & Advancement, in her TEDxWindsor talk from 2019. A veteran of the automotive industry, Thompson has 30 years of experience at Ford Motor Company and American Axle and Manufacturing in positions ranging from skilled trades, operations, engineering, and global leadership.

In her talk, Thompson sites York University professor Aaron Dhir’s book Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity[1] to underscore the value women bring to management roles including strong performance, sound decision-making, and introducing diverse perspectives. “Women prepared for board meetings having read the material, which caused the men to show up better prepared… so the performance in the non-dominant group improved the performance in the dominant group”.

According to Dhir’s study, women take longer to make informed decisions, which involved dynamic conflict, but it brought the decision making back into the more neutral setting of the boardroom and “off the golf course, away from the country club or even in the nightclub”, which are venues that have been associated with male-dominated business practices. Women also focused more on long-term impact, stakeholder value over shareholder value, with a greater focus on the “environment, the community, and the employees”.

According to Thompson, having more women in leadership leads to greater balance at the top. Like balancing on a BOSU ball, it’s tricky and you fall off. But there’s an immense amount of core strength that is developed which allows for more agility and more flexibility… In the end organizations with balance… are stronger, from the inside out.”

Although there has been a long and sustained call for diversity across all industries and in the boardroom, only 15% of North American Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO. The Deloitte Women at the wheel study noted that 82 percent of women believe industry bias toward men contributes most to a lack of diversity in leadership positions.

As the industry continues to pivot toward a more sustainable and competitive future, there’s a big opportunity for women in Ontario to help drive it forward. Whether that’s on the factory floor, in the engineering department, in automotive boardrooms, and beyond. To learn more about OVIN’s Talent Strategy and Roadmap and opportunities within the automotive and mobility sector, visit ovin-navigator.ca

[1] https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/faculty_books/269/

[1] https://www.investontario.ca/spotlights/2022-investment-roundup#related

[1] https://www2.deloitte.com/ca/en/pages/consumer-industrial-products/articles/women-at-the-wheel.html