“You get different ideas when people come at things from different perspectives, and you get a more rounded view and often improved decisions,” says Penny Burnett, HR Director at Volkswagen Group UK, explaining her belief in the need to promote diversity in the work place.
“The automotive industry is facing its biggest ever transformation. We have to place the customer at the centre of everything we do. Having a diverse employee base that represents the diversity of society and therefore our customers, provides the best opportunity to drive creativity, innovation and support the achievement of our business goals.”
Penny believes the automotive industry’s digital future will require people with different skillsets, opening up opportunities that could potentially make the industry more attractive to women. Penny comments: “Our vehicles will be electric, sold and marketed with associated services and our e-commerce capability will be vital to our success. This offers us a fantastic opportunity to broaden the appeal to women to take up careers within Volkswagen Group. For example in digital, marketing, e-commerce, electric vehicles, organisation development, to name just a few areas.”
To support the attractiveness of job roles at Volkswagen Group UK, Penny highlights that job roles are written in a way that demonstrates the activities required, rather than being a list of key accountabilities. “If we post a role about planning, we talk about it in the roundest terms,” she explains. “For example, the role requires great stakeholder engagement and management internally in the UK and with our Brand factories for example in Germany and Spain. This means liaising with people from different teams and cultural backgrounds who have had different work experiences. Our roles are equally interesting to men and women and we try to convey that. It’s about ensuring potential applicants not only see the range of roles on offer but also the softer, transferrable skills we need that can sometimes be ignored.”
The company has multiple routes for women to advance their careers at all levels: “We profile jobs, individuals and initiatives that reflect our general balance around diversity, from our graduates through to our senior people, and our most experienced team members who’ve worked here for 25 years plus.”
Externally, the company is targeting different sectors in order to attract a more diverse talent pool, particularly to include females. “We actively look for managers from outside automotive who have directly transferrable soft and hard skills. For instance, we’ve made hires from Avon and Home Retail Group in the recent past – women who have the right skillsets who just need to make that step into applying them in a different industry.”
Driving the difference
When talking to female students about the opportunities in automotive, Penny says it makes a real difference having a graduate-level person or early-career female talk to them about their experience. She explains: “A woman in her 50s standing up and talking about her career is all well and good, but my experience and career history will be very different to the experience ahead of our younger generations. If we can demonstrate that we already have female colleagues at the early stages of their career who are excited, engaged and really passionate about working in the automotive sector and specifically at Volkswagen Group UK, you can see students and young women really connecting. They start to see them as role models and it makes understanding how they got into their roles and what they actually do day-in-day-out really current and relevant.”
It’s something the team are hoping they will be able to help with at the 30% Club’s Inspiring Automotive Women’s Day, which is being hosted at Volkswagen Group’s National Learning Centre in Milton Keynes on 3 May. The event is sponsoring 100 female schoolchildren to hear women talk about the potential for great careers in the automotive industry generally as well as at Volkswagen Group UK, including the retail network and global headquarters.
Shaping meaningful roles
These initiatives are making a positive impact on the company’s hiring rates: “We always look for the best person for the job but while more men apply for our roles, the number of women who go through to interview is proportionately higher. Right now our hiring ratio is nearly 50/50 which is where we would like it to be.” However, Penny adds the company is continuing to focus on achieving gender balance in its management roles.
As she explains: “We have a broad cross-section of females in the middle layer of our organisation and we have initiatives such as mentoring and sponsorship programmes in place to help women break through into more senior roles.
“In many instances, our female talent needs to take time out for maternity leave. Returning to work means trying to balance looking after your family with keeping up the momentum in your career. We have programmes that support females when they both leave for and return from maternity leave.”
Penny concludes: “The support and development you receive as an individual is an important part of releasing potential.” She points to the mentoring she received on her own career path: “My previous boss was really instrumental in helping me progress my career from an HR Business Partner, then to Head of HR Operations, and ultimately into my Director role. That guidance focused on my development, improving my confidence and preparing me ahead of time for that next move. It works, which is why we think it’s important to invest in the management and development of our people with a specific focus on diversity and progressing our female talent. It’s about helping people to thrive in their job and reach their full potential.”