In May, I was invited to attend the inaugural Women Automotive Summit. Put on by a team of passionate professionals from Worldwide Partnerships, a British organization dedicated to the power of face-to-face business interactions, the Summit would take place in Stuttgart on June 14. Coincidentally, it would occur right in the middle of my quarterly-ish visit to Munich.
Intrigued, I looked into its programming. I discovered a stellar line-up of speakers, made up of badass women in the motor business, representing the globe; legit sponsors; an attractive interactive format; and, all in the language of international business, English.
A few weeks later, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, with a budget hotel reserved and my overnight bag in tow, I caught the train at Munich’s Hauptbahnhof, headed for to a new German city, known as the cradle of the automobile.
The next morning, I arrived at the Summit’s venue, Le Méridien Stuttgart early enough to partake in a pastry breakfast and consume a handful of small coffee cups. I observed a jovial crowd of diverse women. I heard German all around me (natürlich!), but also more English than usual, spoken with a variety of beautiful and interesting accents. And to my delight, some French too. I immediately felt comfortable in this cross-cultural and international environment.
The purpose of the conference was “to celebrate global leaders’ success stories and look into how we can reach our full potential, whilst also exploring how technology advances are affecting people’s role in the industry”.
Before the morning coffee break, I already knew that I was exactly where I needed to be.
But not because of my familiarity and experience with automotive global mega trends, technology advances, and other disruptions currently influencing and challenging the industry. Sure, practically everyone spoke of electrification, autonomous driving, connected and shared cars and lives, artificial intelligence, mobility, digitalization, cloud and everything-as-a-service, and of course experience… (For my definition of experience, check out this blog post from last year; I haven’t changed my opinion).
Rather, it was the intimacy of the stories these women shared that was most differentiating about this event, that was most impactful and that made me feel right at home, in a foreign place.
In a comfortable setting, these global leaders showed up vulnerably, honest and open, prepared to dig deep into usually difficult topics (isn’t the whole world a man’s world?!), and enthusiastic about sharing their personal thoughts, points-of-view and experiences in our beloved and exciting industry.
Sophie Seiwald, Managing Director of Mercedez-Benz.io forever changed my vision of diversity.
She shared her very personal journey in preparing to get her dream job and brilliantly explained her passion for shaping and enabling the digital transformation of the 90+ year-old global automaker amidst disruptive market forces. She was succinct, brilliant and impressive as she set the context for her key message: one of diversity of mindset, perspective, creativity and thought. None of that boys versus girls business that often polarizes conversations of diversity. Rather a powerful message of diversity as “the art of thinking independently together”. She spoke of putting the individual at the center of the culture she is building, of worshipping every individual’s contribution, of #you. Thank you Sophie, for changing my life.
Dr. Angelika Sodian, Managing Director of NIO UK followed inspired me to say yes.
Her message of vision coupled with corresponding action resonated clearly with me as she enthusiastically spoke about the Chinese-born automaker’s reason for being and her place and contributions to it. She openly shared personal and career experiences that clearly demonstrated her passion for her work and its alignment with the company’s. It was her message of setting personal targets that touched me the most: in a world where women may often doubt their abilities to say yes to opportunities that stretch them out of their comfort zone, her lesson clearly landed in me: say yes. Opportunities are everywhere.
Helen Emsley, Executive Director, Global Design for Buick and GMC joined them for a panel discussion. The British woman, representing Detroit spoke of the surprises in her successful career, of breaking global silos and of raising her teenage son. I’m so into that.
Linda Jackson, CEO of Citroën delighted me the most: she showed me how a world-class woman leader can be strong and serious all the while being approachable, feminine, and dare I say, (appropriately) emotional at the same time. She spoke of conviction, confidence, credibility and of the power of the collective to realize the opportunities of our business, at any age. She tipped her hat to hard work, recalled going back to school for her MBA during the thick of her career ascension, acknowledged the importance of her care team, captained by her husband. Her final message: “Everything is possible, if you believe.” Vous en êtes la preuve, Madame Jackson.
Livia Toth, Venture Associate from Plug & Play Tech Center’s @STARTUP AUTOBAHN lead my afternoon break out session on how OEMs can innovate by collaborating with start-ups. She impressed me with her poise, professionalism, knowledge of her business, facilitation abilities, clarity in direction and language, despite English not being her first language. I want to be more like you.
And all the women I met at the event who, armored-down, engaged in meaningful conversation about career, challenges, celebrations, culture and countries.
A special shout out to MC Mary-Jo de Leeuw for calling out job seekers to stand: you got me out of my comfort zone and enabled so many moments of connections as a result. Namaste.
I was in a crowd of my own: full of women from different places, living in different places, who have embraced being themselves and created wonderful careers, and lives for themselves. We found a home.
Our final message: a commitment to helping each other out.
My final message: there is no glass ceiling.