Everything is possible if you get out there, take risks, and be confident, Citroen CEO Linda Jackson told women gathered for the Women Automotive Summit in Stuttgart.
“You have to seize opportunities, you don’t wait for things to happen,” said the Brit in charge of the French car brand under Peugeot (UG.PA). “You have to dare to do things that are not predestined.”
“We shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes as that’s how we learn, but daring to make your way means everything is possible,” she added.
The summit, which was the first car industry summit for women organised by Worldwide Partnerships in London, saw 175 women and eight men gather to hear about the careers of the handful of women who made it to the top of the game in the male-dominated industry.
Jackson, whose career in the car industry spans 40 years got into it “completely by accident” after taking a summer job at Jaguar after school, and deciding not to go to university but to stay at the car company and learn more. She notes that with women making up just 16% of senior executives in the industry, there’s a lot of work to be done.
She attributes a chunk of her career rise to having a mentor, a finance director, who pushed her, and says mentors are vital for women especially in the car industry.
“It was him who said you need to do an MBA, you need to go work in France and get experience,” she said. “If you haven’t got a mentor you need to get one, it is absolutely essential.”
Whether you are a man or a woman, Jackson said the key to success is sheer hard work (and unfortunately women tend to have to work harder than men), credibility, getting results, and being able to convince people.
“I love team building, I believe totally in the collective and the collaborative, not the individual,” she said.
The CEO says that even today she gets asked if it is not too difficult being a woman in a male-dominated environment, noting “sometimes in the past I was mistaken for the PA, but you say ‘no, sorry, I’m the boss’ and move on.”
Jackson was not the only senior auto-industry executive to share such an anecdote from her career. Helen Emsley, the executive director of global design at General Motors told the audience she used to get asked to make the coffee in meetings (“You really don’t want a Brit making you coffee.”)
Sabine Scheunert, vice president of digital & IT sales at Mercedes-Benz recounted that when she found out she had got that job, a former male colleague told her that she only got it because she what the sole female candidate in the running.