Women at the wheel

Key findings from the 2020 diversity, equity, and inclusion in automotive study

Women make up about half of the total labour force, but only a quarter of the automotive manufacturing workforce. It’s clear that automotive companies must do more to attract and elevate female talent in the industry—but where to begin?

In collaboration with Automotive News and as part of our longstanding commitment to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion outcomes, we surveyed hundreds of industry professionals, both male and female, to develop a clearer picture of the current state of the industry and identify areas for improvement. The findings, relayed in the report Women at the wheel, establish an important springboard for informed dialogue and outline the critical first steps toward positive change in the industry. 

Key findings:

  • Nearly half of women surveyed said they would move to a different industry if they were to restart their career today, with a lack of diversity and inclusion among the top three reasons to leave.
  • The biggest differences between men and women when it comes to what’s most important in their career include a positive company culture (women) and career progression opportunities (men).
  • Far more women than men believe visible minorities are underrepresented among their company’s senior executives.
  • 82 percent of women believe industry bias toward men contributes most to a lack of diversity in leadership positions.
  • 25 percent of men do not believe business benefits are derived from a diverse leadership team, compared to just 3 percent of women. 

Podcast: In conversation with Canada’s Leading Women

Led by Automotive News, the 100 Leading Women program recognizes female automotive leaders in North America who are advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry. In alignment with this program, our Women at the wheel report outlines findings from our survey of industry professionals to develop a fuller picture of the automotive industry today and identify areas for improvement.

In this podcast, we’re pleased to host Canadian honorees from the program, discussing their experiences in the industry and sharing insights into improving diversity, equity, and inclusion outcomes in the future.

Episode 2 : Conversation with Megan Hunter, Executive Vice President of Procurement and Supply Chain Operations at Martinrea


Lorrie King: Hello. My name is Lorrie King and I'm a senior partner at Deloitte Canada. I have the pleasure of speaking today with Megan Hunter, executive vice president of procurement and supply chain operations at Martinrea. Megan was recently honored as one of the top 100 leading women in the automotive industry in North America. The program, led by Automotive News, recognizes female leaders in automotive who are advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry. In alignment with this, Deloitte conducted a survey of industry professionals to develop a clearer picture of the industry and identify areas for improvement. And the findings are presented in our report titled, Women at the wheel. Today, we speak with Megan about how she has succeeded in an industry that has generally underperformed in the diversity, equity, and inclusion area and hear her perspectives on the road ahead. Thank you, Megan, for joining us and let's get started.

Megan Hunter: All right. Thank you, Lorrie.

Lorrie King: Megan, today women make up about half of the labor force but comprise only a quarter of the automotive manufacturing workforce. Can you tell us a little bit more about your career path as a woman in the industry navigating this landscape? What did things look like when you got started and how have things changed?

Megan Hunter: Sure. I actually began my career more than 20 years ago at a steel mill. So it was somewhere I never envisioned myself. So if you can imagine a 22 year old young female putting on a hard hat and safety glasses and steel-toed shoes and walking into this massive steel mill. The building that I worked in was over a mile long and there was only one other female who worked about half a mile away down the building. So needless to say, the chips are definitely stacked against me. I was young, energetic, ambitious, new employee in the workplace, I had lots of ideas and enthusiasm. That was initially met with quite a lot of resistance. Who is this person? What is she trying to do? Why is she driving this chaos? Why is she following up with me on these things? It was extremely difficult. And I had to learn rather quickly to change my style and my approach in order to be more effective in that environment. I learned how to collaborate more, I learned to be a really good listener, and pull out from people areas where they were struggling and then figure out what I could do to help them combat that struggle. So I really did well in that environment. And I think what really was a testament to how I was faring was when I left. They had a big farewell party for me, and of course you would expect your friends and your close colleagues to come and they did. But what really surprised me were a few of the older gentlemen who were probably the biggest resistors in anything that I tried to do, they actually came and it showed me that I garnered their respect. So even though my approaches were different, my energy level and enthusiasm were very different, they respected what I could bring to the table and my capabilities, and that really meant a lot to me. So starting in that environment where there were really no females to lean on for any sort of mentoring, I went to an OEM and dramatically different environment there, a lot more females, a lot more diversity, so that was pretty exciting, but still room to improve. And now we're 20 years later and it's really exciting to look at because there are women not only throughout organizations but also at the highest levels, be it on the board or be it on the executive level. And those women aren't just there because they're women, they're there because they're good at what they do, because they bring value to the organization. I think that in a lot of respects we have men to thank for that. These men who are open-minded and supportive and say, "Look, this is a person whose heart is in the right place, their work ethic is in the right place, they're driving great results, they're building great teams, and this is the type of person that we want to lead our company."

Lorrie King: So over the years since you started and where you are now, have you seen an improvement at Martinrea in this area?

Megan Hunter: Absolutely. I think our corporate office has always been more diverse. But we're seeing it throughout other areas of our company as well. We're seeing female press operators, something that I maybe never expected to see in my career, female maintenance managers. So we're really cultivating an environment here where you can do whatever it is you want to do. And we have two very strong impressive women on our board, Sandra Pupatello and Molly Shoichet. Both leaders in their respective areas. And it's pretty exciting to see this company embracing this level of talent from female leaders.

Lorrie King: Yeah, that's amazing. And it sounds like you guys are leaders in the industry. So moving on around work-life balance, one of the things that our report found was that a lack of work-life balance was the second most commonly cited issue preventing women from considering a career in automotive. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this and whether or not you thought that was the case in your career. And if so, what habits or strategies did you develop to improve your work-life balance?

Megan Hunter: So it's interesting you asked that question because I have a slightly different perspective. I really believe that the power of this work-life balance is really within our own control. So we have the power to balance our work and what we work for, which in my case is my family. We have to make decisions, we have to make many decisions in life. We have to decide what's really important from a work perspective and make sure we align everything so that we can accomplish those goals. And then we have to decide what's really important for family and again, align ourselves to be successful there. I've made lots of concessions, I've made concessions from a work perspective where I’ve left early for a parent teacher conference or to watch one of my children in a sporting event. I've also made concessions where I've had to travel extensively for work and missed some family events. So I think building trust on both sides of this equation is really important. Your family needs to know that you value them, that they're important, and that when you're in, you're all in. And it's the same thing for work. I have a lot of passion for what I do, I really love what I do. And building that trust within the organization that even though I'm not here at five o'clock one day, I had to leave early, the organization trusts that I'm going to do what I need to do to drive results and get my job done. So I really do believe that this work-life balance is ours to manage and we can get support where needed. It's a matter of building that trust and demonstrating results.

Lorrie King: That is so true and words of wisdom that it really is very much a personal issue. So thank you again for that. In your 100 Leading Women profile, you likened your career to “a game of inches” or “a series of challenges that became opportunities.” Can you tell us about a time when you faced a challenge that turned into an opportunity?

Megan Hunter: Sure. So early in my career, just setting the stage, I later realized it's really what was considered a black swan event. There was a large steel mill that went insolvent. And in addition to that, there was a coding mill that had a fire and removed that capacity from the marketplace. So it was the first time really in 20 years, the prior 20 years steel prices were coming down, down, down, down, and there really was not this type of black swan event in this environment. So while at the OEM, I led the resourcing of all of this steel material to other mills. It really tested my resilience. There were many challenges to overcome and many long hours, seven day work weeks, minimum 18 hours over the course of a few months. But in these events, you meet some really incredible people. You meet some incredible people willing to do incredible things to help you and your company work through these events. And so you build some very strong relationships that probably lasts throughout your career and then some. In this type of event, because I had a high profile role in leading this, it got my name out there and got me noticed throughout the community. And I started to really build my reputation as being someone who was disciplined and a hard driver, but also fair and realistic. That was the springboard, I guess you would say, to the next opportunity that came along.

Lorrie King: Turning crisis into opportunity.

Megan Hunter: That's right.

Lorrie King: Speaking of exceptional people, what qualities or skills do you look for when you're building your team? And perhaps from your perspective, what are the benefits of a diverse team?

Megan Hunter: So I would say I look for a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, and what I'll call culture. Which to me is the sum of a person's ethics and their respect for people. Because respect for people is key. Everyone's different, but when we can truly respect each other and support each other and challenge each other in a positive way, that's where we really take off. So I make it a point to surround myself with strong and capable professionals. The essence of my role is really to give them the respect and the support that they need to excel. My group today is a fairly diverse group, they come from all different backgrounds and different experience levels and they continually build on ideas together. They discuss, they debate, they debate a lot. But in the end, no one takes credit because they all own it. It's our idea and we drive it. And I think that only comes from the diverse team that has true respect for people.

Lorrie King: Thank you, that's amazing. So now let's move on a little bit and we were talking about this before we started, about the pandemic, and we're now into the fifteenth month. How have you seen this changing how you work and are you seeing changes in the automotive industry specifically because of the pandemic?

Megan Hunter: Oh, there's definitely changes. There's definitely changes. As far as how I work personally, really the only thing that changed was I had about six weeks of work from home during the time when most of the OEMs were shut down. I was fortunate in that I said to myself, "Take advantage of this opportunity because you may not ever have this again in your lifetime." So I did. We had family dinners where those are more typical to come by than let's say in “the normal world,” and I really cherish that time that I was able to concentrate more on my family. But in terms of a more macro perspective, certainly we're seeing a lot more flexible work options. That's what employees want. And I think we were all really amazed at how productive we were able to be in this remote environment. We're talking about literally one day picking up our laptops and heading home and making an office space at the dining room table, the kitchen table, the basement, or in an actual office if you didn't have to battle another family member for that. And we saw productivity increase and people saw that you know what? We can really do this. So we're hearing from employees that they do want more flexibility and they want more flexibility as really a platform to help them hypercharge their productivity. When they need just that concentrated time to really focus and drive results, then as companies, we’re challenged to let them do that. So I definitely see we are going to be seeing a lot more of these flexible work models. We've had customers announce that they're going to be fully remote, so not bringing any employees back to the office. Others have said that they're going to be selling their office buildings, some have said they're going to be converting their spaces to dedicated team collaboration areas, and then you see some companies that say we're all coming back. So I think we're seeing everything across that spectrum. I personally am an advocate for hybrid remote models because again, I think that when we allow employees the opportunity to, when they need to focus, work from home for a day to really get things hypercharged, I think that's the right thing to do. I've done it in my career and have been very successful. So for me, I'm an advocate of that model. But there is no replacement for true human interaction, that collaboration, that passing each other in the hallway, those impromptu discussions, there really is no replacement for that. And so from my perspective, I do look forward to having team members back to some degree in the office so that we can interact as humans again face to face and pick up some of these impromptu things.

Lorrie King: It's so true and it's interesting. I think your comments about a hybrid model, we certainly see that becoming the norm, where people will get together to collaborate but they've all set up home offices. So they've been able to do this for 15 months. And if you've got a functional home office, why not continue to use it when you need it?

Megan Hunter: That's right. I gave this analogy that it's like a basketball team. So individually they can practice their skills and they can get very good at their individual skills, but as a team, something suffers if you're not practicing together. So I believe it's really important to combine those two, not only your individual performance but your team performance.

Lorrie King: I love that analogy. So with your permission, I will steal that and use it because that's a great analogy.

Megan Hunter: My pleasure.

Lorrie King: So shifting one more time. The other comment you made in your 100 Leading Women profile, you cited a stat from Forbes that said 65% of vehicles are purchased by women and 86% of these decisions are influenced by women. Which is really striking when you compare that to our findings around women working in the automotive manufacturing workforce. So what do you feel are the barriers that need to be broken down by the industry to allow more women to both pursue a career in automotive and to succeed and rise to leadership positions in the industry, and much as you've been able to achieve at Martinrea?

Megan Hunter: So I think this is a really difficult question to answer. For me, there's some passion around automotive because cars represent freedom, they allow us the ability to go where we want when we want. And especially in some of our areas, public transport is plentiful, in others not so much, but cars give us that freedom. They're also a form of personal expression. So the style can appeal to us, the certain options, we personify our personality in the vehicles that we drive. So women definitely have passion for making these selections and they have strong emotional responses to the designs of certain vehicles. But I think to some, the technical nature of the industry really appeals to them and for others maybe not so. So I think some of the other things that we need to bring out for women are the fact that there's a lot of challenges in this industry, and many women love a challenge. We're very good at handling competing demands. And we're very good at managing complicated schedules and difficult situations, and you're really challenged frequently in this industry and that's exciting, no one day is ever like another day. I think that that is appealing to many women. I also think that there's many other opportunities, certainly in the STEM engineering, but there's IT, there's supply chain, there's human resources, there's marketing, communication, sales. So we need strong creative people in our industry and we need those women because they bring great ideas and they make us well-rounded. So really getting that message across to women that you have a lot to offer and our industry has a lot to offer you. And not to be intimidated by what your preconceived notions of our industry are, and not to be turned off by the fact that you think, "Well, if I have this job, I'm not going to be able to have a family." Because it's not true. You can find ways to make that successful. So maybe it's in part a matter of more women getting out there and selling these messages to our young women coming up. And as well as some marketing to make this seem like not such a male dominated industry because it really is changing.

Lorrie King: And you are a great spokeswoman for that message. So we'll get this podcast out in as many ears as possible and women will hear this message. So I want to thank you for your time today. This has been absolutely fantastic. I loved your insights, I love the work that you're doing and other women at Martinrea, being a leader in the industry. And so again, I just want to say thank you very much for your time today, Megan.

Megan Hunter: Thank you, Lorrie. It's my pleasure.

Episode 1 : Conversation with Susan Kenny, Engine Plant Manager, Honda of Canada Mfg.


Lorrie King: Hello, this is Lorrie King, Senior Partner at Deloitte Canada. I have the pleasure of speaking today with Susan Kenny, Engine Plant Manager at Honda of Canada Mfg. in snowy Alliston. Susan was selected as one of the top 100 Leading Women in the automotive industry in North America. The program, led by Automotive News, recognizes female leaders in automotive who are advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry. In alignment with this, Deloitte conducted a survey of industry professionals to develop a clearer picture of the industry and identify areas for improvement, and the findings are presented in our report titled Women at the wheel. Today, we speak with Susan about her insights and how she had succeeded in an industry that has generally underperformed in the diversity, equity and inclusion area and hear her perspectives on the road ahead.
Hello, Susan.

Susan Kenny: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

Lorrie King: Oh, it's our pleasure. So let's start. Today Susan, women make up about half of the labor force, but they comprise only a quarter of the automotive manufacturing workforce. Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about your career path as a woman in the industry and how you navigated this landscape. What did things look like when you first started and how have things changed?

Susan Kenny: When I reflect back on my career, I started in the automotive industry in 1993. Not fresh out of university, but very close. I had a job with Ontario Hydro, now known as a Hydro One, and I left there and I took the job with Honda. When I think back then and how I was navigating that landscape you speak of, I don't think I was any different than any other young professional trying to find a job out of school. I will say, of course, there were many occasions where I was the only woman in the room back then. There were not a lot of women in the industry, but as for navigating, I don't think that my experience would be completely different than anybody else's. But one of the things that I will say that has changed is when I first entered the workforce, either automotive or in the hydro, there were a lot of government policies. The one that comes to mind is affirmative action, was the buzzword back then, I guess. So even back then they were trying to improve the gender and racial equality in the workplace. Unfortunately, back then though, it was viewed largely as a quota system, just that single representation. And it was often met with a lot of resistance and misunderstanding. So today I think probably the biggest difference from a policy perspective is that we still have things, we do not call it affirmative action anymore, but they're bolstered with some really strong communication and education. And that's to create some understanding of why diversity in our workplaces is so important so that everybody understands, it's not about the numbers, but it's also the right and just thing to do. So I think probably from that landscape, that's one of the biggest differences. And of course, I'm very happy to report that I'm not the only woman in the room anymore. We are hiring a lot more women. But I do believe we have a long way to go before we get to that, that gender equity or that 50/50%.

Lorrie King: Thank you. So along that same line, how do you think we can encourage more women to pursue careers in automotive?

Susan Kenny: That's a really good question. I've spent 28 years in this industry and I think one of the things that we don't do very well is that we don't show what the opportunities are. Again, in my interview I did with the 100 Leading Women, I made the comment that there's a perception that you need to be a car guy, I guess, is the word, and enjoy tinkering with cars. And that's not actually true. There's a lot of opportunities in this industry for women and that women can excel at and I think they would find interesting. And our industry right now is going through a monumental shift, one that we've never seen before. And with that brings some significant opportunities and challenges and ones that I think that women can really have an impact on. So they can be really part of something big and things that are really going to change people's lives. And I think that's important that we market that. When you think of electrification, the autonomous vehicles and the connected technology, as well as smart factories, all of these shifts are going to have a huge impact on how people move and how they go to work. And I really think that women can play a big part in that and find it very interesting. So I believe we're able to market that and get that out there, that we will attract more women to this industry.

Lorrie King: That's fantastic. So once we get women into the industry, what do you feel are the barriers that we need to break down in the industry to allow more women to not only pursue a career, but also once they've decided to choose the automotive industry, how do they succeed and rise to leadership positions in their organizations?

Susan Kenny: So I think as I mentioned, we need to do a better job of marketing the opportunities in the industry and the possibilities it has to offer. Then when we get the women in the door, we really need to stop asking women to conform to some model or some form. I think we need to figure out how the workplace needs to change, to meet some of their needs. And I think that's really the shift that we need to look at in our workplace. And if we're able to do that, I believe we will get more women into our industry. And I also believe to help them to be successful in leadership roles, we need to start at the top. There needs to be some targeted and intentional education on the benefits of diversity, as well as the concept of the unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is something we all have. I think the trick is for us to learn how to recognize it and then change it. And I think if we can do that, then we will have a good chance of getting more diversity into those leadership roles. And it's a bit of a snowball effect after that, because I believe the more diversity we have in those leadership roles then the greater possibility that we'll continue to have diversity in our workplace. And then we'll get to the point of equilibrium where really the only thing that really matters is our skills and abilities. And I think that's what we all want. And I'll say a quote from Mr. Honda, because he was a trailblazer even 50 years ago when he started this company. But Mr. Honda would say that by having greater equality, the only thing left is good ideas. And we check our biases at the door.

Lorrie King: Oh, that's fantastic. What about the role of sponsorship and mentorship? Because I think, as you say, it becomes a snowball effect, but it has to start with one. And do you see an opportunity for better sponsorship or better mentorship in the automotive industry to help women succeed?

Susan Kenny: Yeah, absolutely. I believe that's a huge piece of what's going to help a lot of women to be successful in this industry is that we do need to have stronger sponsorship. We do need to have people in leadership roles so that they can see what the possibilities are. And we really do need to mentor and nurture those employees to continue to stay in the industry. So I do believe that's a huge area where we need to continue to explore and expand.

Lorrie King: Great, thank you. So here's a bit of a change—if you could travel back in time, what is one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self at the start of your career?

Susan Kenny: Actually, it's funny because when I thought about this question, mentoring came to mind. So when I think back to when I started in this industry and some of those habits I still carry with me today, I worked really hard. When I think back 28 years ago, I was a young engineer. I worked really, really hard every day. But I would say that I didn't always work smart, and I rarely asked for help. I’d just put my head down and I’d try and figure it out. And I'm not sure if that's because of being maybe the only woman in the industry. I will say, obviously hard work always pays off, that's my mantra. And so it did work out most of the time. But I think if I were to go back in time, I would have told myself to reach out and ask for that mentor or someone to help and guide me. And I think that maybe my journey wouldn't have been quite as tough and maybe a little bit more rewarding. Even with that, I have had a very rewarding career, but I really think that would have been something that I would have done differently.

Lorrie King: And that's great advice to younger women as they come up, is don't be afraid to ask for that. Because I think many of us that came up in that generation probably were afraid to ask. Just one last question, and I did like your comment on your profile about, when we talk about work-life balance and you made the comment that sometimes Honda won and sometimes your family won. But along that same line, our report did find that the lack of work-life balance was the second most commonly cited issue that prevented women from considering a career in automotive. And so I wouldn't mind your thoughts on this. And again, what advice would you give to women who are challenged to find the balance between having a family and raising it? And what were some of the habits and strategies that you developed along the way to allow you to find that work-life balance?

Susan Kenny: Yeah, this is a really good question. And it's a really difficult one as well in my experience. For me personally, achieving work-life balance was challenging. And over the years there have been periods where it's been very difficult for me personally. I used to travel a lot and where things were happening at work, I felt I needed to be here. Again, I joke that manufacturing never sleeps, so you need to be available all the time. But having said that, I do believe I've had some success in achieving a decent work-life balance. And going back to my other interview, sometimes work won and sometimes home won, I think my advice would be for anyone to really sit down and define what work-life balance is for them personally. It's very fluid and it is different for everyone. And you need to set those priorities. So for example, 28 years ago, work-life balance for me was completely different than it was 20 years ago when my first child was born. And now as they grow and they move off to university, it changes again. So as much as the definition changes, so does the solution. There's no one silver bullet in my mind to achieve work-life balance. I had a very supportive spouse. My in-laws helped significantly when my children were small. Sometimes I took the vacation because I needed the rest. So some of those things are some of the advice that I would give. The other thing is I think a lot of companies are seeing that work-life balance is a priority for a lot of people coming into the workforce today, and they're starting to contribute to some of those solutions. And I think the automotive industry needs to start adopting. And work from home is something that the current pandemic has really forced on a lot of us, and I think we've realized that it's not so bad, it can work. So I think more of the work from home and the flex hours are important, even things like onsite gyms or allowing extensions to business trips, for people who see travel as something that they really are interested in doing, or just little things that can allow people to achieve that balance every day. So, again, I think it's about defining what it means for you and thinking of an arsenal of solutions to achieve that and accepting that sometimes it's not always perfect.

Lorrie King: Absolutely. I think that's great advice that for each individual work-life balance may mean something different. So I think that those are some great ideas and that's great. So I wanted to say, thank you very much for joining us today. I think it's been really insightful and hopefully we can continue to move the needle on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the automotive industry. I'm so pleased to speak to somebody who's been a trailblazer in the industry. So thank you very much for your time today.

Susan Kenny: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the time.

Lorrie King: Take care.

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