Let’s talk about sexism

There's sexism in the traditionally male-dominated auto industry. Not exactly a breaking news story.

So did we really need to devote a dozen pages of our newspaper to the topic?

Turns out, the answer is a resounding yes. Because while all levels of the auto industry are struggling to recruit and retain talented women, the efforts to do so are completely missing the reasons why women either don't want to get involved or leave once the pressure becomes unbearable.

Sexism isn't found only in dealerships, service departments or assembly lines. It's happening in the headquarters office, where women are asked to take notes, get coffee or organize office parties. It's happening after hours at industry conferences, when a group of guys from a company delegation decide to go to a strip club for entertainment or to network. It's happening when young women are passed up for jobs because they might get pregnant, newer mothers are passed up for promotions because the boss thinks they can't handle parenting and work, and more established mothers are told they aren't getting a job because it would involve too much travel and time away from their families.

Across the board, Project XX Survey respondents told us, companies are failing to call out the subtle slights and outright bad behavior that create uncomfortable work environments and to educate men on how to properly interact with women in the office. The HR department fails most women because their complaints either go ignored or result in such strong reaction that men get fired and other co-workers become resentful and suspicious. And so the open secret of sexism remains an open wound.

It's reasonable to expect some of these problems to abate as more women enter the auto industry and the power dynamics begin to change. The increased focus on bringing girls into the STEM fields will help.

But that's not enough. And it's too long to wait. Industry leaders can't expect to bring enough women into the work force if they don't act now to address the small, draining problems that affect women every day.

The sordid tales that have come out of Silicon Valley and Hollywood could very well be coming from Detroit, Stuttgart or Tokyo. Let them serve as a warning to the industry that it can't hide from its secrets much longer. And let the chilling findings of Project XX ignite a frank conversation in every factory, showroom, office and boardroom in this industry about sexism and how to eradicate it from the workplace.

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