Time For “The Talk”: Having the #TimesUp Conversation in the Auto Industry


Last year, “Automotive News” published a rather startling study entitled, “Project XX – Sexism Alive and Well in Auto Industry.” Nearly 900 women took the Project XX survey, which looked at four main areas: feedback and promotion; harassment and safety; inclusion and unconscious bias. The survey elicited more than 2,700 comments, where women went into more depth about their experiences.  I applaud Mary Beth Vander Schaaf, managing editor of “Automotive News”, for her leadership in publishing this important work on what women are experiencing in our industry in the workplace.

During this same time frame, Harvey Weinstein, following sexual abuse allegations, was dismissed from his company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. A few months later the #TimesUp campaign was launched by Hollywood celebrities in response to the Weinstein effect and #MeToo.

The explosion of rhetoric that followed of very public sexual harassment allegations and the outcry of women and men have created a new climate around sexual harassment claims. Many nervous employees are asking, “What is this all about and what does this mean to me and my workplace?”. Women are definitely having these conversations about how this is affecting them, just take a look at social media feeds using Hashtags #TimesUp and #MeToo and be sure to read all the quotes and comments on the Automotive News Project XX study.

Quotes from the Project XX survey:

“The times I feel most vulnerable or objectified have largely been at trade shows and/or industry events and conferences. I love the automotive industry, I take the drawbacks as they come. In the time I’ve been working in this industry, I’ve made a concerted effort to seek out fellow women in the industry and surround myself with respectful (and fun) people.”

“I’ve been called demeaning names like ‘Blondie’ or ‘Barbie’ and told that my opinion wasn’t needed ‘until we’re picking out shoe colors.’ This is a real problem in this industry.”

“Many people who have worked in the industry for a long time perpetuate the ‘This is how things are’ mindset, which makes it hard to be taken seriously when you complain about sexist treatment by a client or colleague. (And yes, calling women you work with ‘honey’ is sexist, no matter how old you are.)

Sexual Harassment Training is Not Enough:

Sexual Harassment training can no longer be a “Check Box, DONE, end of conversation!”.  As leaders we can no longer pretend, ignore or hide our heads in the sand as if these conversations are not happening in our industry. We need to act preemptively to create more constructive safe spaces in our organizations and at industry events to have these conversations, address the issues and give our support with solutions. Progress towards understanding and solutions will come when men are listening and learning about women’s experiences and women are listening and learning about the experiences men are having.

Here are some of the keywords, terminology and conversations I personally hear from women and men who want to come to a clearer understanding and to learn how to communicate more effectively on these topics. I encourage industry leaders to be open and talk about the topic of sexual harassment, #TimesUp and #MeToo with employees, industry leaders, your peers, your legal team and your compliance experts. Let the conversation begin. We can make better progress to solve this as an industry by having the conversation to find solutions together!

Starter Topics:

“Why has sexual harassment suddenly become such a hot topic?”

“What is and what is not sexual harassment?”

“What steps can I take, other than quit my job, if my boss or co-worker is sexually harassing me?”

“As a man, how do I respond when I overhear or see sexual harassment or harassment in general taking place in my workplace?”

“How do I respond when told, as a woman, I need to get a tougher skin, boys will be boys or get a sense of humor, when I bring up an incident of a sexual nature I felt may have been out of bounds?”

Glossary of Terminology:

Equality: The state of all people being equal or share the same or having the same ability or resources to meet a challenge. This especially refers to rights or opportunities.

Equity: Fairness and impartiality or justice in the way people are treated that is not dependent on uniformity.

Feminism: Belief in and desire for equality between the sexes.

Misandry: A hatred of men.

Misogyny: The hatred of women.

#MeToo Mission Statement:  17,700,000 women have reported a sexual assault since 1998. Join the movement to support survivors and end sexual violence” To better understand the #MeToo mission go here: https://metoomvmt.org/

Sexism:  Prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women and behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.

Sexual Abuse: The infliction of sexual contact upon a person by forcible compulsion the engaging in sexual contact with a person who is below a specified age or who is incapable of giving consent, because of age or mental or physical incapacity or the crime of engaging in or inflicting sexual abuse.

Sexual Harassment:  Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

*EEOC, (U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission)

#TimesUp (Now) Mission Statement:  “The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it. TIME’S UP is a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere. From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, we envision nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live”. To better understand the mission and manifesto of #TimesUp go here:  https://www.timesupnow.com/


Resources: Automotive News Study October 2017, Dictionary.com, EEOC