Women in ACT: Implementing Innovation with a Diverse Workforce

April 29, 2019

Ford Motor Company presented Women in ACT on Wednesday morning, a workshop that focused on why women are a critical component of the winning formula needed in today’s advanced clean transportation industry at ACT Expo. Speakers addressed why, in an era of rapidly shifting technology, demographics, and policy trends, it is imperative that the clean transportation industry have effective leadership to successfully navigate this changing transportation paradigm.

While many industries are struggling to attract the necessary talent and react to this dynamism, the female workforce presents an underutilized, high-potential talent pool from which to draw. Research has shown that diversity within companies, from entry level, c-suite, and boards of directors, leads to higher performance, higher returns, and higher employee satisfaction. Attendees heard from women leaders in the commercial transportation sector who have made meaningful impacts and transformed the advanced clean transportation market. The audience learned how they got their start, what motivates them to continue, and how businesses and organizations can attract more women; increasing the diversity of perspectives, improving the bottom line, and cleaning up emissions.

While many industries are struggling to attract the necessary talent and react to this dynamism, the female workforce presents an underutilized, high-potential talent pool from which to draw.

Rebecca Shelby, environmental regulatory engineer with Ford Motor Company, kicked off the conversation at the Women in ACT panel. She referenced a Deloitte study that surveyed hundreds of women working in the automotive sector to capture their views on the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in the sector. The study notes there is currently a talent crisis in the global automotive industry, coming at the same time when megatrends like vehicle connectivity, self-driving cars and shifting consumer preference are creating a complex mobility landscape. Female employees represent only a quarter of the sector’s workforce, meaning there are endless opportunities for women in this environment that requires talented professionals with diverse perspectives, deep skills and experience.

The report reinforced the critical need for companies in the transportation sector to retain talented women, as only 53% of women surveyed would choose the industry again if given the chance to start over (down from 71% in 2015). “Don’t be afraid to share your opinion, you have to speak your voice,” was some advice Rebecca Shelby gave the audience.

Kim Okafor, electric vehicle manager with Trillium, continued this line of thought in reflecting on why it’s so critical for women to be involved in the advanced clean tech sector. “Women are natural planners. For the success of alternative fuels, we need to be looking into the future at the end goal. We need to be thinking about all of the milestones along the way, and all the relationships we need to build today, in order to be strategically positioned for the future,” she told the room.

Sherry Sanger with Penske revealed how a “Women’s Network” was formed at the Penske corporate office to encourage professional development.

When asking her leadership team to share one thing as a leader they were going to do to improve driver retention, Mari Roberts from Frito-Lay said, “I received wildly different ideas from the men and the women on my management team, and all of the ideas were great. I would have missed out on half of them without women in management.”

Concluding the morning’s Women in ACT presentations, Sherry Sanger with Penske revealed how a “Women’s Network” was formed at the Penske corporate office to encourage professional development. This provides female managers access to senior leadership, and gives them the opportunity to hear senior leaders share their vision for the future of the company.