On the occasion of International Women's Day, Communicate took the opportunity to speak with Suzanne Guzzo, Chief Marketing Officer for GM across MEA. Guzzo in hindsight gives us an outlook on what it is like for women to work in the Automotive sector today.
With over a decade's experience working in omnichannel marketing and customer, brand experience Suzanne Guzzo, Chief Marketing Officer for General Motors across MEA has actively witnessed women's contribution to various industries including sports, lifestyle, and now automotive. On the occasion of International Women's Day, Communicate delved into the role of women in C-suite positions and others in the automotive industry.
Here's what she had to say.
After spending all these years working in marketing across various industries, how do you see women contributing to the scene, especially in the Middle Eastern market?
While I am new to the automotive field, my background includes working for the National Football League and for lifestyle brands in the USA. From a more holistic perspective, I see the contributions of women in the workplace as crucial to all industries, but especially in those that are historically male-led, such as the automotive space. Women in the automotive field are bringing in diversity across perspectives, skills, and priorities. This impact is not felt only within the organizational culture but with the consumer and ultimately directly to the bottom line.
At General Motors, our goal is to be the most inclusive company in the world, extending to our operations in the Middle East, therefore we have and will continue to push to achieve our diversity goals, starting from the very top with our CEO Mary Barra.
How would you define the representation of women in this industry? How has the industry progressed?
Representation in the industry comes with a diverse array of talent being given an equal say in setting and achieving the future of mobility. In terms of industry progression, while representation has come a long way since years past, there is still a lot of work to be done. Looking inwards, we are working to drive equity, evidenced by our female workforce currently accounting for 36% of our team in the Middle East. Across the board, over 31% of our managerial positions are held by women, a commitment that is cemented by our participation in the SDG 5 Pledge to Accelerate Gender Balance, by the UAE Gender Balance Council. We have achieved important milestones with the UAE Gender Balance Council since 2018 and from 2021, we’ve achieved the Gold Level of Gender Balance Excellence. Our recruitment drive is also split equally between males and females, and there is no traditional pay gap between genders. These initiatives are sound examples of progress to bring a more equitable viewpoint to the table, and it is our goal to continue to drive forward on this front.
Although we've come a long way, the automotive industry is still seen as a predominantly male-led industry. There is a need for diversification in this workspace. What is it that women already in the industry, especially in demanding positions like yours need to do to change that notion?
I’m proud to say that I work for GM where women like Mary Barra are leading change every day. Together we need to make space for this change, literally and figuratively, and by we – I am referring to both men and women in leadership roles. This can be done by encouraging women to sit at the front of the room, pause a meeting to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, openly celebrate wins and learnings, be a mentor and a sponsor. While structured developmental training programs and education are important aspects of change, in many ways a shift in the simple day-to-day actions can have the most impact. I know it has for me, as I’ve been fortunate to work with strong leaders and colleagues in my time at General Motors, all of whom have made space.
How can companies in this sector attract and retain woman talent?
It is very important for companies to prioritize attracting a diverse array of talent and putting in place the ideal work environment to encourage a celebration of inclusivity. When we feel safe to be our full selves at work, we think outside the box, break the mold, and ultimately can achieve the future of mobility vision we have set out to bring to life. It has been proven, repeatedly, that fostering gender diversity drives greater business success and innovation – leaving people healthier and happier as a result. We have some great example initiatives in place that feed into this culture at General Motors, led by our internal Women’s Council formed in 2013, as well as our DEI Committee, launched in 2021. Amongst the internal programs are the women in the development program, unconscious bias behavior training, regular surveys to keep a finger on the pulse of our team sentiment, and monthly meetings with various cohorts to encourage open dialogue.
What are some of the challenges that you had to overcome as a part of your journey to a C-level executive?
I started my career in the emerging digital and e-commerce space and have followed my passion for transformation ever since. While the work has drastically evolved, my overall challenge, which has shaped my current ambition, has remained the same. I want to be myself – across all aspects of my life. As a young employee, I would try to emulate my male leaders thinking this was instrumental to success, however, I always struggled because they rarely reflected me and didn’t share the same values.
I have since learned that as a woman, I would have to find my own path and grow in my confidence over time. It’s not easy to have a different voice and I’ve fallen off this path many times. Looking back, I can credit two aspects of my career for aiding my growth in personal confidence. One was managing teams, especially comprised of women - and wanting to make space for them while being their advocate. The second was having a daughter and wanting her to see that she can be exactly who she is, instilling in her the confidence to bring her full self to the table every day.
What do you think is the future for women in automotive?
Speaking to the vision of General Motors, our goal is to be the most inclusive company in the world, creating a future of opportunities for women in the automotive field. To do so, and exemplify best practices across the industry, we want to share insights, and create a diverse and equitable workplace - supporting gender inclusion and engagement. To ensure this is a future that is extended to the next generation of talent, we are also keenly supporting STEM initiatives across the region, giving a voice to the incoming cohort of employees.