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Women at Work: How GM is Changing the Auto Industry

  • GM plant in Rayong receives visit from Alicia Boler-Davis, head of Global Quality & Customer Experience
  • GM and Chevrolet in Thailand employ many women in prominent and important roles from manufacturing to marketing
  • Women represent 25 percent of the employees at GM Thailand, GM Powertrain and Chevrolet Sales Thailand – higher than industry average

 

RAYONG, THAILAND – When it comes to promoting the professional development of women in the auto industry, General Motors is an acknowledged leader, best exemplified by Mary Barra’s 30-year rise from entry-level engineer to CEO and head of the company.

Barra, who visited GM’s Rayong plant earlier this year, relies on several women on her senior leadership team to lead significant areas of the business in an industry long dominated by men. Among the many women in prominent positions at GM is Senior Vice President of Global Quality and Customer Experience Alicia Boler-Davis, who recently visited GM Thailand’s Rayong plant as well.

Educated as a chemical engineer, Boler-Davis became GM’s first female African-American plant manager in 2007 and is today widely considered one of the industry’s foremost authorities on vehicle quality and customer experience. She recently received the 2014 Technologist of the Year award, which was the highest honor bestowed at the 19th Annual Women of Color Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Conference in Detroit, USA. 

Under Boler-Davis’s leadership, GM has won more initial quality awards in the United States of America than any other automaker two years in a row, according to a leading third-party consumer study.

“It has been a great honor showing Alicia our operations,” said Ms. Unchana Surathikhajon, director of GM Thailand and Southeast Asia Warranty, Customer Satisfaction and Regional Quality. “As a woman, I am glad to have a role model in the company who fully supports my area of work and truly appreciates our achievements to provide Chevrolet customers with the best products and services. I’m very encouraged to know that GM strongly promotes the professional development of women.”

A reality that Ms. Sakuna Thikhapanya, manager of Quality Assurance for GM Southeast Asia, also appreciates. ”During our talks, Alicia not only focused on business matters, she also shared personal thoughts highlighting the values of character, courage and commitment. The character to know yourself and pursue your passion. The courage to take risk and try new things. And the commitment to persevere no matter how tough the challenge is. This is great advice for all women – and men – working at GM in Thailand.”

According to non-profit Catalyst, women currently hold 6 of the 24 corporate officer positions at GM – more than the typical Fortune 500 company. Women also hold 4 of 14 seats on GM’s board of directors, more than most comparable companies.

As of 2010, women made up just less than 21 percent of all employees in the auto industry. But today approximately 25 percent of the employees at GM Thailand, GM Powertrain and Chevrolet Sales Thailand are women, working in high-profile positions and areas, such as engineering, launch operations, quality assurance, franchise development and marketing.

The move to have more women in decision-making roles at GM makes business sense. According to a 2011 Nielsen report, women make or help make as many vehicle purchase decisions as men, both in Thailand and around the world.

“By having women in a multitude of roles across the enterprise, we are better able to deliver products that meet the needs of all of our customers,” said Boler-Davis, who is married with two children.

Of the challenges women face in the industry, Boler-Davis said: “Being a woman in a male-dominated industry starts with a personal commitment to excel and have the tenacity to deal with adversity. By demonstrating that commitment and tenacity to others by doing excellent work any question of whether you belong or not quickly falls away.

“However, it takes more than personal commitment. It also takes a corporate culture that recognizes and rewards those who work the hardest and smartest to deliver great products and experiences for customers and positive results for the company – regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. GM does that better than many companies in the auto industry.”