Author: Kay Layne
The automotive industry has long been run by men, but that doesn’t mean that women can’t find success in it. In honour of International Women’s Month, we spoke to some dynamic women in the industry who are making their mark.
Yolanda Biswah is the Senior Vice President and General Manager at Canadian Black Book. This executive has been in the automotive industry for almost two decades. Biswah has a sales and customer experience background.
While she has risen to the top, the lack of diversity of those around her has been daunting. “I’ve had amazing people who have uplifted me, sponsored me, helped me to become more confident,” says Biswah. “But there’s been difficulties because most of the time I’m the only woman and the only black woman in the space or a room. I still find that very intimidating.”
Lack of representation in the automotive industry is one of the biggest challenges women face. In the industry, top positions are often held by men, while women are often overlooked. As a result, women trying to break into the industry may lack support and mentorship. Biswah would love to see executives stepping up to the plate. “Other people in positions of power need to mentor and coach more women to senior positions. We talk about it all the time, but it just has to happen,” said Biswah.
Diana Ricketts is EVP of Strategic Partnerships for LGM Financial Services Inc. She started out working at a dealership part-time in the industry as a teenager, in need of pocket money, and the pay was great. However, this newcomer quickly fell in love with the industry, learning everything first-hand. Ricketts held various positions that allowed her to be exposed to fleet, leasing, retail, commercial, F&I and service, gaining experience quickly.
Ricketts has enjoyed her rollercoaster ride of a career for the most part but says there were times when she was ready to give it all up. “When I was a young woman in automotive, it was super fun, yet hard. When I received my first management role, less than one per cent of managers were women,” she shares.
She advises anyone trying to succeed in this industry to get help. “I had an excellent male mentor there that pushed me into positions that I probably wouldn’t have done on my own,” said Ricketts. “However, I think sponsorship is more important than mentorship. Because if you’re not being promoted by somebody sitting at the table, you won’t get to the table, or it’ll take longer for you to get to the table.”
Lauren Tedesco is the Senior Vice President for the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association. Tedesco started her journey 15 years ago as a summer student at APMA. She has since worked in education and law and served as the Director of Communications to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Education before being lured back to the industry.
This go-getter says that women starting out must jump out of their comfort zone. “We always want to ask permission to have a seat rather than just dragging the chair across the room up to the table,” says Tedesco. “I think that shift is happening, just not as fast as I’d like to see. But I think there are many more women in the space who have their elbows up and are a lot louder. This new generation will build that pathway to say, ‘Okay, we’re here. You must accept it, and we will change things for the better.”