From Zero to Hero: How Hyundai Is Creating a Career Pipeline For Women

Hyundai Career Pipeline For Women

They want you to love their cars, so they’re thinking about them the same way you do.

Not long ago, Hyundai was in a lonely position: One of only a few major automakers without any women in senior leadership roles.

The popularity of the company’s cars and SUVs is on the rise, but this revelation was a pockmark on an increasingly stellar reputation. And it left the company disadvantaged in terms of building a talent pipeline to grow the company and serve a diverse community of car buyers. 

One year later, and the story is dramatically different. Why? Ask José Muñoz, the CEO and president of Hyundai Motor America. 

Join José Muñoz and Dana White of Hyundai as we chat about Why Women are Key to the Future of the Automotive Industry at the Reuters Automotive Summit on Monday, November 16th at 10:00AM ET. Register here.

“I am an advocate of high-performers with unique perspectives that will drive the success of the business,” he told us. Recently new to Hyundai himself, José came from Nissan, where he created a pathway for a diverse population of leaders to excel in their careers and led the company to the #2 auto maker in terms of executive level women, behind Ford. When he got to Hyundai and needed to fill executive roles, his track record held. 

“In my first year, I appointed four women to the C-suite or senior executives: chief marketing officer Angela Zepeda, chief communications officer Dana White, president of Hyundai Mexico Claudia Marquez and vice president of product planning and future mobility Olabisi Boyle,” he said. 

Related: What Drives Angela Zepeda, Chief Marketing Officer of Hyundai

Hyundai Career Pipeline For Women

José Muñoz, CEO and President, Hyundai Motors America. ? Hyundai

Why Hire Women? 

The obvious answer is that “women are the target audience,” said Dana White, chief communications officer of Hyundai Motors North America. “65% are direct buyers,” she noted, and overall, 85% of car purchase decisions are made or influenced by women. “We are the target market, so from a business point of view and the auto industry in particular,” women are the future of a successful business.

“If you can think ahead—how can you make it convenient for me, how tech rich are you, how do you make my life easier—that’s how you differentiate yourself with female consumers,” Dana said. Having an internal team that relates to and understands customers—what they want and what they need—has been key for many auto companies over the last decade. It’s what helps their products stand out, and it creates an emotional connection that not only translates to a purchase but to long-term loyalty.

Related: The Perfect Bubble Car? A Hybrid: How I ‘Bubbled’ for a Week in the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

Hyundai Career Pipeline For Women

Dana White, chief Communications Officer, Hyundai Motor North America. ? Hyundai

But Is She the Best Person For the Job? 

Of course, just hiring women for the sake of bridging the gender gap isn’t an answer. “We all know selecting the right individual based on performance and fit for a position is the number one priority when hiring,” said José.

Having a framework that makes this possible is the key. “It all comes from leadership,” Dana said. “Cultures are set by our leaders. José is not a ‘diversity for diversity’s sake’ leader; José is about performance. If you perform, Jose is A-OK with you. If you do not perform, you’re out like anyone else,” she said. 

“By encouraging female leaders to think outside the box, while being nimble and flexible, each will then recognize that they are important and an essential part of the team, not a diversity box needing to be checked,” José told us. 

Related: Cast-off Car Parts Reimagined As Fashion? Re:Style 2020 Showcases Hyundai’s Collab with Top Designers

Keeping Good People Is the Key to Success 

Many women take a job that has lot of promise and glass-ceiling shattering potential but then feel boxed in, left out of the boys club, as if they are not listened to or aren’t given the right tools to do the job. How can a company address this?

“You have to make sure people feel they are important to the team, feel like they are an essential part of the team,” Dana said. “You may put a woman in a high position, but if you don’t make her essential, you’re not going to keep her. If she can attain that level, she can attain that level somewhere else.”

And promoting good people is key, too. “You have to evolve, you have to be nimble, you have to adapt,” Dana said. “It might be that 25-year-old woman who understands Twitch or a game that young girls like. You need to find her and develop her, she’s your future, who you need to reach that new generation, to create an emotional attachment to your brand.” 

Hyundai Career Pipeline For Women

Hyundai Motor America VP of product planning and future mobility Olabisi Boyle (l) and chief marketing officer Angela Zepeda (r). ? Hyundai

Building a Talent Pipeline Ensures Your Future

While hiring good people who have experience outside your company is important, building a pipeline inside the company is important, too. As a part of his initial changes at Hyundai, José instituted an executive mentorship/leadership group for women to mentor and coach other women into executive roles. “A series of leadership training programs, executives are tasked with leading sessions,” Dana said. “There are some things that women do that hold them back from higher promotion,” and the goal is to teach women to identify these and then develop successful strategies to grow their careers. 

For example, “you have to be not just a do-er, you have to be a decision maker,” Dana said. Women are really good at doing, then can tell what needs to be done and get it done perfectly. “What we often lack is the ability to make the leap to decision maker. We’ll lay the breadcrumbs out for the decision maker, but we won’t make the decision. We hand it over to someone else, then he makes the decision and guess what: He gets the promotion.” 

By focusing on strengthening critical skills and moving the mission forward, Dana said, women can ensure they have a role on the team. “There was a saying in my prior job” — before coming to Hyundai Dana was Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs under Secretary James Mattis— “there are only so many seats on helicopter. If you are not advancing the mission, you don’t have a seat.” That’s a stark picture but a powerful one.

How to Appeal to Female Customers 

And, that is the goal, after all, right? “If we as an industry are to stay relevant, we have to know our customers, and more and more of our customers are women, José said. “Male leaders ignore this fact at their own peril.” 

We are seeing the industry pivot to serve customers in more female-friendly terms, such providing a contactless service and sales, more digital shopping and putting more value on the customer’s time. Much of this was added into the Hyundai game plan a few years ago, but “Covid has brought that to the forefront. Digital retail, concierge service, sales valet, all of those things so you can purchase a car, service a car, without going to a dealer,” Dana said. 

And, it helps to have women in your highest ranks. When they are visible and responsive, they inspire stakeholders—dealers, suppliers and others who are part of the automaker ecosystem—to the same standards helps them to achieve similar successes. Such as moving up from zero to the top of the list. 

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss