Career Advice, Companies Hiring, Executive Feature

#SheDrives: How Toyota is Investing in Women Leaders

Help us challenge what is possible. This is one of the calls to action from Toyota North America as they look to hire the best and brightest. And while this statement speaks to the company’s mission to continuously improve, it also speaks volumes about Toyota’s dedication to women leaders. 

“I’m inspired to see the women ahead of me who are leading change – the pioneers, if you will,” says Terri Von Lehmden, VP, Talent Strategy, Toyota Motor North America. “But honestly, I’m more inspired by the next generation of women that I get to work with every day. As future leaders, they will fundamentally change our business for the better.”

Von Lehmden has seen firsthand how the Japanese automaker supports, promotes and learns from women leaders throughout the company. And she says that Toyota isn’t following a proverbial trend — strong women are in the company’s DNA.

“Many people may not know that it was a woman who inspired our founder Sakichi Toyoda to start our company more than a century ago,” says Von Lehmden. “His mother was a weaver, and he noticed how difficult it was for her to bend over her manual loom all day. He wanted to make her life and the lives of the other weavers better, so he invented an automated loom. Because of her, we began as a loom company, and over time we evolved into an automotive company, and today once again, we’re transforming —this time to become a mobility company.”

Over the years, Toyota has invested in female-focused employee resource groups, learning and development initiatives, and actively recruiting women to change the face of the automotive industry.

Glassdoor caught up with Von Lehmden during Women’s History Month and on the eve of Equal Pay Day to talk about how the company promotes female talent growth and what they look for in job candidates.

Glassdoor: What brought you to Toyota? What was it about the automotive company that signaled to you that it was truly dedicated to women in leadership?
Terri Von Lehmden: I grew up in the automotive industry so I’ve loved cars for as long as I can remember. It’s an industry that’s always evolving and offers the opportunity to create something truly integral to peoples’ lives. So when the right opportunity came along at Toyota, it was a no brainer. The company’s purpose and culture (i.e. The Toyota Way) are legendary, and we truly live our values. The core value of Respect for People and our belief that we can always improve is evident across every aspect of our business and guides every decision we make. And, of course, when it comes to corporate citizenship, there’s no one better than Toyota.

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Glassdoor: Women Influencing and Impacting Toyota (WIIT) is one of your most dynamic employee resource groups. How does it support and empower women at Toyota?
Terri Von Lehmden: Toyota’s Business Partnering Groups serve three important purposes: they help drive the business, they provide opportunities for team member development outside of their day-to-day work; they’re a huge part of our community outreach and volunteer efforts; and a critical business driver. With 14 chapters across North America (more than any other Toyota BPG), WIIT is recognized at all levels of our organization as a key contributor to Toyota’s success. WIIT promotes female talent growth by cultivating a workplace environment that attracts, promotes and retains women. It also gives our female team members a chance to demonstrate leadership and to develop mentoring or sponsorship relationships with women they may not otherwise meet in the course of their regular job responsibilities.

Glassdoor: Is there a standout program, initiative or campaign that has really set the bar in terms of the company’s dedication to women leaders?
Terri Von Lehmden: The first is Toyota’s North American Women’s Conference, which just celebrated its 8th Anniversary. What began as a small gathering of about 70 women in California has grown to nearly 400 attendees from across North America, and this year included team members from Toyota’s operations in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. Female team members who are inspiring positive change in their respective locations are nominated by their leaders to attend the 3-day intensive development and engagement event.

And what’s even more gratifying is that our North American conference has inspired other regions to host their own women’s conferences, including our Australia team, which hosted its first event last spring and is gearing up for #2 next month. I was honored to be part of it last year and excited to head back to talk about the critical role of sponsorship in developing female leaders.

Speaking of sponsorship, one of the other Toyota leadership development initiatives I’m excited about is called SuccessShare. SuccessShare is a sponsorship program designed to prepare the next generation of competent, capable and qualified women to be better positioned to move within the ranks of leadership, as well as help build sponsorship capability in Toyota’s leaders. SuccessShare reflects Toyota’s firm belief that ensuring everyone has equal and ample opportunities to progress and to lead is the right thing to do for the business and its people. Implemented in 2016, SuccessShare will complete its second successful cohort in May 2019.

Glassdoor: How has being a woman in the auto industry changed over the past 10 years?
Terri Von Lehmden: The automotive industry itself has changed so much in the last decade – from customer expectations to the role of technology to even re-thinking what it means to be a car company – so of course being a woman in this industry has changed, as well. Personally, I’m inspired to see the women ahead of me who are leading change – the pioneers, if you will. At Toyota, for example, we have three female plant presidents in the U.S. – Millie Marshall, Susan Elkington and Leah Curry – more than any other OEM. We also have four powerhouse women leading change and transformation across our organization, including CHRO Cheryl Hughes, Jacqueline Thomas our Chief Compliance Officer, our CFO Tracey Doi, and Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Diversity Officer Sandra Phillips Rogers. But honestly, I’m more inspired by the next generation of women that I get to work with every day. They continue to push me, to help me see things differently; and as future leaders, they will fundamentally change our business for the better.

Glassdoor: Toyota hasn’t traditionally been known as a company that has had a plethora of women executives or on the board of directors, however, that has changed in the last decade. What was the impetus for this shift?
Terri Von Lehmden: Many people may not know that it was a woman who inspired our founder Sakichi Toyoda to start our company more than a century ago. His mother was a weaver, and he noticed how difficult it was for her to bend over her manual loom all day. He wanted to make her life and the lives of the other weavers better, so he invented an automated loom. Because of her, we began as a loom company, and over time we evolved into an automotive company, and today once again, we’re transforming —this time to become a mobility company. But yet throughout our history, one thing has remained constant, The Toyota Way, which has two pillars: Respect for People and Continuous Improvement — that’s respect for all and development for all. Empowering team members to bring their diverse perspectives to the table is part of our DNA — it fosters respect, inspires collaboration and cultivates innovation. Our leaders – both in North America and at TMC in Japan – know that we can’t achieve our mobility vision and make the world a better place without everyone at the table, particularly in leadership roles.

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Glassdoor: Women now hold about 5% of CEO positions in America’s 500 biggest companies, and the number of women executives isn’t rising as fast as some want. Why isn’t the message getting through to Boards of Directors or executive hiring teams that women can lead successfully?
Terri Von Lehmden: I believe that women are the largest underserved market in business. Women control 65% of all personal wealth in the U.S. and make or influence 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions. And of course, study after study proves that the more diverse a company’s leadership is, the greater the ROI. The bottom line is that it’s good for business and for society to have your workforce be representative of the marketplace, and while I can’t speak for other companies, I can tell you that Toyota understands this and is committed to making it a reality.

Toyota is a place for dreamers that do. —Terri Von Lehmden

Glassdoor: What are the barriers to gender equality in leadership positions that you still see in your industry?
Terri Von Lehmden: Our industry, like so many others, always has room for improvement when it comes to work-life integration and continuing to be very intentional about things like sponsorship, which we know is critical to diversifying our leadership ranks. With that said, I think one of our biggest challenges as an industry is simply getting more young women to consider a career in automotive or STEM fields in the first place. Some of that involves tackling misconceptions they may have about the breadth and scope of career opportunities that are available, but it’s also as simple as telling our own stories. It’s important for women to see other women thriving in our industry. The reality is that the more women we have throughout every level of our workforce, the greater the likelihood of having more women in leadership positions.

Glassdoor: What advice do you have for young corporate women today on honing their skills and working towards the upper ranks?
Terri Von Lehmden: My best advice is that you need to have a growth mindset. I believe there’s always something to learn from every person and every experience, every day. Be open. Be curious. Look for new challenges – things that take you out of your comfort zone – and seek out people (peers, mentors, etc.) who will help you see things from a different perspective. Seek to listen and to understand. The world is constantly changing, so the more comfortable you can become with change and the more confidence you have in your ability to adapt to change, the better. Yes, it’s going to be scary, and no, you won’t have all the answers. And that’s okay. It’s having the right mindset that makes everything else possible.

Glassdoor: What are one or two ways that female job seekers can truly stand out when applying to roles at Toyota? What are the skills, traits and qualities that you value when you hire women leaders?
Terri Von Lehmden: We often say that Toyota is a place for dreamers that do. We’re looking for that unique combination – female or male – who is not only inspired to do big things but also has the dedication to make them happen. So of course when we evaluate prospective talent, experience is certainly important. Beyond that, however, it has to be a good culture fit. Do you have an innovative spirit? Are you flexible and agile? Do you thrive as part of a team? Do you have a growth mindset? Do you believe in our higher purpose – our commitment to mobility for all? I don’t worry as much about helping someone learn new skills; I believe all of us are capable of learning how to do new things. I want to know who you are and what gets you up in the morning.

Come be a part of something extraordinary, and start your impossible with us. —Terri Von Lehmden

Glassdoor: If you were speaking to a female executive candidate, what would you tell her about why she should join Toyota?
Terri Von Lehmden: I may be just a bit biased, but I think Toyota is simply the best place to grow your career with work that really matters. We have so many opportunities whether it’s in sales or marketing, finance, engineering, scientific research, IT, and of course, human resources. At Toyota, if you can dream it, you can do it. And when we talk about Respect for People and Continuous Improvement, we mean it. The Toyota Way is truly our North Star. Even if automotive isn’t an industry you would normally consider, Toyota is so much more than that. Our vision is to make the world a better place by creating mobility solutions – so that each and every person is free to move – because when you’re free to move, anything is possible. And, in order to do that, we need different ways of thinking and people with a wide array of experiences. We need you! Come be a part of something extraordinary, and start your impossible with us.

 

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