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Women in the Aftermarket Leadership Forum addresses how to lead equality, diversity and inclusion efforts in aftermarket organizations

While the automotive aftermarket continues to have a reputation as an industry predominantly dominated by men, women have been making huge headways on both the shop floor and the head office. Despite this progress, there remains a need for a space where women in the aftermarket industry can discuss the challenges and opportunities of working in a traditionally male-dominated environment. The Women in the Aftermarket Leadership Forum, presented by Fix Network Canada and held during the AIA Canada Annual Conference, was organized to provide that space.

Over breakfast, attendees were greeted by AIA Canada President Jean-François Champagne and 2021-2022 Chairman Bob Jaworski. Debbie McCarthy, Global Vice President of Human Resources for Fix Network, was also on-hand to welcome participants.

The morning started with AIA Canada’s Senior Director of Government Relations, Alana Baker, introducing a video greeting from the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.

“You know better than anyone that these are not just jobs. These are highly skilled, exciting career opportunities,” the minister said, in reference to the 700,000 skilled trade jobs opening up in Canada by 2028. “We need Canadians to know about these opportunities and want to seize them. The untapped pool of talent in this country is deep. I’m talking about women, Indigenous youth, newcomers, (and) people with disabilities.”

Diversity on the Agenda

The morning’s first guest and workshop leader, Sharon Ramalho, former Senior Vice-president and Chief People Officer of McDonald’s Corporation, and founder of Six Words Consulting, lead attendees through a series of small group exercises, discussing shared experiences, common goals, and best practices. For Sharon, the individual and the organization have a role to play when it comes to professional development.

Achieving Your Goals

On the individual level, Sharon advocates that women be honest with themselves about what they want and to set interim goals that will help them achieve their long-term plans. These 3-5-year midrange goals give the opportunity to find the tools needed to achieve more. Key among these tools are the professional and social skills of seeking and accepting feedback, finding one’s own voice and being true to it, and recognizing opportunity when it comes. Opportunities, however, don’t always need to be promotions.

“It’s not always a straight line up,” Sharon says. “Sometimes taking a lateral role or a step back is beneficial to moving your career forward.’’

A mentor can help identify these opportunities, especially when they don’t necessarily look like opportunities.

But the work doesn’t entirely fall on the individual. Having supportive leaders is imperative to achieving one’s goals. The motivation, guidance, and feedback that the leadership team offers are invaluable. Sharon extols the benefits of being open and direct with management about where you want to be in the future and having calibration discussions with senior leadership. If you are not on the same page as them, the path you see for yourself may not materialize as you cannot get where you want to go if the people that you need to support you to achieve this path do not have the same vision.

The Role of Leadership in Building Diversity

With a focus on building gender equality in the management suites, Sharon discussed how to develop a pipeline to bring potential women leaders into the company. This can be difficult in a traditionally male-dominated industry like the automotive aftermarket. Actively recruiting through job fairs, internships, and mentoring helps bring new and diverse talent into the industry.

That diversity begets more diversity. Companies tend to hire people from a small circle of connections. As Sharon puts it, people tend to hire people who look like them. Because of that, senior leadership has a critical role in building diversity, and men must be a part of these difficult conversations that need to be had. Leadership needs to support diversity and understand the value of being an inclusive workplace.

But the value isn’t just cultural. It has a tangible benefit on a company’s bottom line. Organizations with a higher percentage of women in leadership roles outperform their market competitors.

Building an Inclusive Culture

Following the workshop session, Sharon invited Katie Gibson, Director of People, Culture, and Diversity for Mevotech, to talk about how both companies and employees can build an inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace. For Katie – drawing on her experience with Mevotech – it starts with open communication.

“If we want to keep employees happy and working in our industry,” Katie said, “we need to be inclusive, welcoming, and make them feel heard.”

Katie outlined Mevotech’s engagement strategy, which involved actively interacting with staff to help build the community they wanted to see. Surveys were used to measure success with course corrections made as needed. A new workplace culture is built by the entire organization; seeking input from all staff is the best way to build one that is responsive to the needs of everyone.

How to be authentic in your workplace?

The morning wrapped up with an engaging talk by keynote speaker Vivian Kaye, CEO of KinkyCurlyYaki, and self-proclaimed “all-around dope lady.” With humour and an infectious attitude, Vivian captured the audience’s attention with a relatively simple question: What would Chad do?TM

For Vivian, Chad is the personification of the overconfident, underqualified person whose audacity takes them further than their talent. And it’s this audacity that Vivian believes future women leaders need to embody, even though it can come off as rude or shocking.

The Four Steps to Audacity

With a presentation that was as lively as it was informative, Vivian laid out her four steps to becoming audacious.

  1. Authenticity – know your vision.
  2. Talk the talk – don’t disqualify yourself in your communications.
  3. Lift as you climb – advocate for others.
  4. Do Chad things – believe in your own excellence.

Offering herself as an embodiment of these steps, Vivian is unrepentant about who she is and what she wants. She has eliminated the disqualifying phrases we frequently use to diminish ourselves (“I’m no expert…”), to minimize our needs (“I just want…”), and to make others feel better (saying “I can’t” instead of “I won’t”). Vivian advocates for others by sharing her story and experiences.  Perhaps the most entertaining of these stories was her decidedly Chad move of trademarking the phrase “What would Chad do?” – a move that kept another person from monetizing her efforts when they tried to make t-shirts with the slogan without Vivian’s permission.

Lift as You Climb

A common thread through every guest’s presentation during the forum was the need for women to advocate for women. The quote from the African American human rights advocate, Mary Church Terrel – “lift as you climb’’ – was a concise summation of it. As Vivian Kaye said “This quote… serves as a reminder that you are not working independently. Someone supported you or mentored you to climb up the ladder. Not everyone has the same privilege as you, so be the extension of your privilege and help lift someone else.’’