Honda, Kia, Nissan, Toyota shamed for lack of women in leadership roles

June 16, 2016

In late 2013, General Motors announced that it was giving its top job to Mary Barra. It was very, very big news. Barra had plenty of fans, plenty of credentials, and as if that weren't enough to make her appointment noteworthy, Barra was the first woman to take the reins of a major automaker.

At other companies, however, women have had fewer successes--sometimes, far fewer. In fact, a brand new website called LedBetter has compiled stats on 231 international corporations, and it's found that many of them have no women at all in executive positions or on their boards of directors.

Why is that important? Today, it's generally agreed that diversity is beneficial for businesses. In fact, there's a good bit of data to suggest that the more diverse a company's workforce is, the more innovative, creative, and profitable the company becomes. And on a more fundamental level, at this point in our history, it seems appropriate that a company's employees mirror the diverse array of customers that a company attracts.

In the auto industry, which serves consumers across lines of race, gender, and sexuality, you might think that employees would represent a cross-section of the public. But in many cases, you'd be wrong. According to LedBetter, four automakers received failing marks on its gender equality test:

Honda: Of the 231 companies ranked by LedBetter, Honda clocks in at #220 in terms of gender diversity. A few women sit on the board of directors, though 93 percent of those spots are still held by men. And there are no women at all on Honda's executive leadership team--as in 0 percent.

Kia: Kia fared even worse than Honda. Kia has no women on the board or in executive positions, earning it a score of 0 and a bottom-of-the-barrel rank of #223. Kia's sibling, Hyundai, isn't rated by LedBetter, but after taking a quick look at its board of directors, we're not sure it would fare much better.

Nissan: Nissan shares Kia's score of 0 and ties its #223 ranking. The company has no women on its executive leadership team or on its board of directors. 

Toyota: Faring slightly worse than Honda but better than Kia and Nissan is Toyota, which lands at #221. Just six percent of its board positions are held by women, and Toyota has no women on its executive team.

Meanwhile, General Motors comes in at a very respectable #27, Harley-Davidson ranks #84, BMW lands at #117, Daimler/Mercedes-Benz arrives at #140, Ford slots in at #144, and Volkswagen at #183. LedBetter is still gathering data on others in the auto industry. Some, like Fiat Chrysler, will probably fare pretty well. Others, less so.

It's tempting to dwell on the fact that all four of LedBetter's lowest-ranked automakers are from Asia--and in fact, that may be more than coincidence. Japan and South Korea are often viewed as more socially conservative than America and Western Europe, which might explain why women are having a tougher time landing top-tier positions. At the moment, though, there's no data to explain the overlap, only raw numbers.

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