Arab International Women's Forum
Brussels, April 8, 2005
Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to this important conference. In my current position
at GM, I am responsible for legal and government affairs for the region that covers Latin America,
Africa and the Middle East. At General Motors we recognize not only the need to empower
women, but also to become more relevant to our female customers, and for a long time now we
have been implementing policies toward those ends. This is not just a moral imperative, but also
represents best business practices.
As you can imagine, the auto industry has the reputation of being male-dominated. In fact, the
highest compliment in our business is to be called a “car guy”. So, we had a tough challenge ahead
of us. I started at GM 20 years ago, and, believe me, I have seen incredible change in that period
I think all of us at GM are proud of the progress we've made, and we've identified some methods
that work. We’re far from satisfied, and we have a long way to go, but we have some ideas about
how to get there, which I'll share with you today.
We're serving a diverse customer base, and the better we understand our customers and their
needs, the better we can serve them. Even in Saudi Arabia, GM's largest market in the Middle
East, where women do not drive, we know that women influence fully 60% of vehicle purchasing
So we strive to put women in key GM roles, and to do that we support their
early-stage careers, and I'll discuss how we do that in some detail. First let me describe GM's
profile in the Middle East. Through its regional headquarters in Dubai, GM oversees operations
in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates,
Syria and Yemen -- the largest presence of any automaker in the region.
GM offers a range of vehicles in the region under the Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Opel, Saab and
Hummer brands. Together with our retailers, we employ 25,000 people throughout the Middle
But the global automotive industry has never been more competitive. In such a tough business
environment, we must get the top talent available; and to overlook women just reduces our
chances by up to 50%. This is not idle talk. My boss, the President of GM Latin America, Africa
& Middle East, one of the four regions in the company, is a woman -- Maureen Kempston Darkes.
Incidentally, she has asked me to express her sincerest wishes for the success of this
conference, and to greet the attendees on her behalf.
How are we proceeding? At General Motors, it is a management objective of each of the four
regional presidents to increase the number of outstanding women managers and executives in
the Company. GM has established specific gender targets for every region, and monitors them at
the highest level on a regular basis. To make certain we are succeeding, we count. That is the
only way we can be accountable.
Today, GM worldwide has close to 90% more women executives than it did just 10 years ago.
The number of women in the most senior ranks -- that is, the top 400 positions globally --
increased 180%. And while 10 years ago the LAAM region had no female executives, today 10%
of our manager and executive employees are female, and of course, a woman holds the top job.
At the Middle East Headquarters in Dubai today, nearly 30% of our local employees are women,
including key manager positions.
What does GM do at every level to develop female talent?
Management Training: Candidates for future manager and executive positions are identified
early in their careers so that they can have important work experiences to develop their
capabilities. Additionally, they have the opportunity to participate in leadership development
programs where they interact with top management and meet others in the Company with similar
potential. The candidate list is reviewed to make sure women are represented in sufficient
Work/Life Balance: Through an outside service provider, GM employees globally are regularly
asked for their confidential feedback on job satisfaction. After repeated surveys, we are able to
see trends over time. One of the areas surveyed is work/life balance, which is of special interest
to women, who increasingly are raising young children while working full-time. My own children
have now grown and left home; when they did, I felt I had been working 2 full-time jobs and just
retired from one of them. Many working mothers feel the pressure of competing responsibilities.
In our regional headquarters in Florida, the results of the survey regarding work/life balance were
not as positive as we had expected. Through a workshop championed by our regional president,
our employees surfaced ideas that could make it easier to balance family responsibilities with a
demanding job schedule. Several of the ideas were based on new communications technologies
that enable employees to attend meetings via conference call and Internet from their homes; this
flexibility is especially important when time differences between offices require employees to work
outside their normal hours. Many of the ideas from this workshop were adopted by management
and implemented -- a direct result of the valuable feedback provided by our employees.
Networking: As part of its commitment to diversity, GM has formed what we call the Affinity
Group for Women. This group was formed in the US 5 years ago and now has over 2,000 active
employee members, from all levels and functions of the Company. We are just now beginning to
include the non-US operations in the women's affinity group. The objectives of the group are to:
- increase GM's profitable share of the women's market
- attract, involve, and retain great women employees
- provide programs and tools to assist women in career development
And in the Middle East itself, GM's strategies for business success align well with creating
opportunities for women. They include:
• Building relationships -- with customers, dealers, suppliers, employees, and
governments. GM partnerships in the Arab World are one of our most powerful assets in
the region. Our biggest retailer is in Saudi Arabia and he believes his business and
country will prosper by the inclusion of women in Saudi economic life. In Jordan, our
Chevrolet retail partner is run by a woman general manager. Building relationships is
fundamental to our success. Women often have a particular strength in relationship
• Developing the best talent and supporting a robust exchange of knowledge and
experience, and not just within the Company. GM provides internships to students at the
American University of Sharja, offering critical work experience and allowing them to
make business decisions early in their careers. We recently hosted a group of 25
students from Sharja at our headquarters in Miramar, Florida. At the Middle East Auto
Show in Dubai in December, our regional president spoke to a group of young people
identified by the UAE Government as high potential, future government and business
leaders, and women made up about half of this group! And GM has recently announced
plans to open training facilities to develop local talent for the auto industry in both the
UAE and Saudi Arabia.
• Leveraging our Corporate reputation. GM's operating principles apply in every country
where we do business, and GM is seen as a positive influence in most countries. A
constant theme we hear from women we speak to in the Middle East is their respect for
corporate cultures that value integrity, results, diversity and equal opportunity.
In summary, here are my 3 main recommendations for corporate action:
1. Set annual targets for the number of women in management positions, with attainment of
targets a measurable objective.
2. Formalize training and networking opportunities so that women are exposed to top
company management and to other women who share career aspirations and
3. Through surveys or focus groups, document input from women employees about career
challenges and take action to address issues on a systematic basis.
I'd like to close by noting that GM was contacted by a US Government program to sponsor a
woman intern from Ramallah last year. She had a strong finance background and worked in
our regional headquarters in the US for several months to learn about our Corporate culture,
and to share with us her perspectives. She happened to be with us when Yasser Arafat died,
so we were able to see the concerns and hopes of that part of the world through her eyes. I
was honored to get to know her and to host her visit to our Global Corporate Headquarters in
Detroit, where she met with many of our senior officers and made a terrific impression. I like
to believe the presence of women in senior executive positions in global companies also is a
source of inspiration in many parts of the world.