November 09, 2020 12:00 AM

Senior manager, application engineering at Osram Opto Semiconductors

Women have not had an easy ride in the automotive industry. An online survey by Deloitte and Automotive News found that only 1 percent of women considered the auto industry as a viable career option, citing unequal pay, lack of opportunity and the caliber of people employed by the industry as the biggest obstacles to success.With that in mind, three top women in the industry — Marcy Fisher of Ford Motor Co., Julie Martin, formerly of Hella, and Tamara Snow of Continental North America — shared their experiences and insight during Osram Opto Semiconductor’s Women in Automotive Lighting Leadership virtual conference on how to build a successful career as a woman in this industry.

Fisher, director of global body exterior and interior engineering at Ford, says that she and other women in the auto industry have had to prove themselves every minute of every day. She notes that women sometimes underestimate their own performance, which is a big mistake. Fisher says that the strongest tools women can possess are self-confidence and the right to deserve respect.”If you come to the job armed with those tools, there is nothing that you can’t overcome,” she says. She also advises women to take a seat at the table, both figuratively and literally. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women walk into a meeting and sit on one of those chairs lined up against the back wall,” she says. “Don’t do that because you are setting your own expectations of how you value yourself. So please, ladies, sit at the table!”

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Martin, retired vice president of sales at Hella, says her biggest challenge was when she joined Hella in 2009. It was during the heart of the Great Recession, and the economy was just starting to dig itself out of the doldrums. But, as it turned out, the economic recovery was much faster than Hella’s supply chain was ready for. That was a problem for Martin because she was running the company’s purchasing organization.”Suddenly, the job became 24/7,” she says. “The first six months in that role were the most difficult of my career. I remember working through holidays, being on calls Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.”Martin knew something had to change. So she put together a proposal for the CEO recommending that the company split her purchasing role in half and hire someone to share the job. “I was fortunate that my CEO was completely supportive,” she says. “And the result was a much better situation for both me and the organization.”

One of Snow’s biggest role models was her grandmother. Her favorite saying was from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”Snow, head of research and advanced engineering at Continental North America, says it’s fine to talk about core values such as respect and integrity, but it’s people who actually model those values in their everyday actions that she admires the most. “I have learned the most from those who have achieved success for the company and for themselves without stepping on others to get there,” she says. When looking for a mentor, women should avoid picking someone who has similar traits as themselves, Martin advises. Instead, look for a mentor who can help you gain skills and get you to the next level. “I’ve always tried to look for mentors that were strong in areas where I myself had a weak spot,” she says. “That enabled me to improve my skills and gain a greater sense of comfort, especially as I moved up into senior leadership positions.”