Women & Automotive Forum
March 21, 2019, was the Women and Automotive Forum in Toronto.
This was my first time at this event, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In a large room full of women from different parts of the industry, I told myself that this would be a day of learning and my goal was to get some perspective.
But what I truly needed was to be inspired. I wanted to feel good again about being in the automotive industry and know that I was moving in the right direction. God knows I have my moments of despair, and sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of the big picture.
My full-time gig in the field is to sell marketing campaigns to dealerships all across the Greater Toronto Area and Southern Ontario. The company that I work for; Autoloyalty, provides marketing options to OEMs at a larger scale and to independent or multi-brand dealer groups at a smaller scale. My day typically consists of one on one communication with the decision makers; 98% of which are men. It certainly helps that I’ve worked at dealerships in the past and have been in the industry for over nine years. But still, it’s hard. My customers are experienced salespeople. Not only that, but they are experienced car salespeople.
My dealer friends tease me and say that “the people who couldn’t make it at the dealership level are the ones who end up in your role…” and I’m okay with that because I enjoy what I do. I’m also pretty good at it. I’ve taken the time to study sales, and when I was a Business Manager on the sales floor, I learned so much about human behaviour and dealership culture.
This is a people’s business, and I’m good at people. But, even though I’m good at what I do and I enjoy it , there are days when it’s tough. There are days when I’m judged and criticized a little more than my thick skin can handle. Some days it’s easy to brush off, and other days, it’s not so easy. My point is that I was looking for inspiration and to feel good again about my career.
Perhaps it was a big expectation from the forum, but I don’t think I was the only one who felt that way in the room. I mean, isn’t that why people attend forums and conferences to begin with, for inspiration?
Right from the start, the keynote speaker; Rhiannon Rosalind had my undivided attention.
Maybe because she flashed a picture of herself and Michelle Obama right away, but hey... it worked!
She talked about her life, her failures and successes and the advice she had received from the likes of Ted Rogers; “You might not be the smartest in the room, but you can be the most prepared.” She showed a slide about the economy that I had never seen or thought about in that way before;
The New Economy
Conscious economy – This is where we are. We are not computers. We have compassion.
It soon became clear that she wasn’t solely talking about the automotive industry, but rather about being aware and open no matter what the business is. The more she talked, the higher I sat in my chair and the faster I took notes. She was talking to a room full of business people in a professional forum, and she was saying things like; “Life is a mirror. You get what you give.” Or; “Can we talk about the real stuff.” I looked around the room, and everyone was nodding or smiling. She was funny and moving when she said she felt that she was doing “a shit job” at being a mother, a business owner, and a friend. That she felt like she was on autopilot and that she couldn’t do it all and still be creative, innovative AND inspire. When is there time to absorb, strategize, process and understand who we are and our progress?
I could relate to all those things myself, and so did every woman sitting in that room it seemed. This was a big subject. One that is hard to talk about and relate to a professional path. But sitting there in front of her that day, she made sense of it, and she made it sound easy too.
“The answer is YOU!” she said and “You don’t need to be on a million boards.”
This can be a thing. Consciousness can be a thing.
Here were her tips on how to be conscious in the workplace and life:
Quit the things that are hurting you: They are different for every person. You know what they are (She quit drinking for example).
Meditate: This is your private way to “check in with yourself” and then be ok with being imperfect.
Be Present: Be aware in the place that you are and the moment as it’s happening. Being out in nature can help you do that.
“It’s still hard,” she said. To feel sad and to feel hurt sometimes and other times to feel happy. These are our range of emotions, and that’s what being human is.
I felt inspired, and I could feel the energy of the room rise as she ended her talk. I felt good. I looked down at my notes and told myself to allow some private time later to process all of this (hence why it’s taken me over two weeks to write this blog post).
The panel discussion that followed was about “Dismantling the Lie of Perfection – How Mistakes Lead to Success.” Again a huge subject and refreshing to hear other women having similar experiences as my own. The levels of success and the unreasonable standards we have created for ourselves was spoken about out-loud in front of other human beings. Go ahead, laugh! But how often do you talk about “knowing yourself” with your girlfriends or with anyone for that matter? How often do we talk about our strengths and weakens so that we are aware enough not to set ourselves up for failure?
I enjoyed listening to these women talk about the role of a female leader and what their responsibilities are in celebrating failures, and how to approach motivation. They discussed the power to promote confidence in individuals and to give a voice to other women to be heard. If we are to move forward in supporting women in the industry, then we must rely on the female influencers to encourage this.
After a healthy lunch, Heather Macpherson addressed the room on “Leading with Intention.” She talked about starting and running a consulting agency in the industry. I’ve never, EVER in all my time on the internet, in conversations with others, or at any other business conference heard anyone talk about struggling with facial expressions and how to manage that. This hits close to home for me, and I’ve never known how to address it properly. I looked at the lady to my right and whispered; “I struggle with this,” and she replied, “We all do!” Then why have I felt like such a weirdo all these years?!?!? But to hear a professional and respected woman on stage talking about emotional intelligence made me feel less alone. It also compelled me to take notes to look up books and videos later to educate myself better on the subject.
The last panel discussion was; “The view from C-Level: Advancing Women Leadership in Auto.” Did you know that companies with more women have a 15-20% better bottom line? And yet men aren’t throwing conferences and getting together to talk about issues in the industry and the challenges in the field. It’s the women that need the confidence and to push forward. We as women think that “if we do the work, it will be noticed.” Men, on the other hand, will say; “Hey look what I did!” That’s the difference in confidence. As leaders, you need to create that environment where there is a potential to evolve for other women who are aspiring to be in leadership roles. Confidence is the basis of this growth, and it’s present in our voice, language, and tone. In the past this confidence was labeled as “too much,” but if that’s who you are, then we should accept this and be comfortable with it. But if being assertive and aggressive isn’t you, then that should be accepted too, if not, it will not feel authentic.
Change doesn’t need to be big and epic to have an impact. You don’t need to change the world and feel the pressures of “The Future is Female.” You can start by changing your world. We have come along way, but we still have our work cut out for us. The awareness is here, and now we need to “move the needle.”
I want to thank the Women and Automotive for including me in this rewarding event. I certainly got the perspective that I was looking for and more importantly, I was inspired. I was inspired by the women who spoke on stage and who shared their personal internal challenges and achievements. I hope that we can continue the necessary conversations in our field and encourage women to participate and lead in the growth of the automotive industry.