Carolyn Cerny, Director of Marketing, and Janet Harden, North America Controller, may come from different functions at Continental, but they both share a mission: to bring female colleagues together and drive diversity within the organization. The two women founded the Continental Women’s Network in the Detroit area, seeing it as the perfect way to capitalize on their combined 33 years of business experience to support other women and impact the company they’ve built their careers in.
In October, the pair spoke to diversity and inclusion thought leaders at Fairygodboss’s Galvanize about how to start a strong women’s ERG. And it’s no wonder why. Twenty-eight global networks later, the pair has already seen the impact of their work. Between sponsoring networking opportunities and creating personal development programs, thanks to the women’s network, many women at Continental have had the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and into their potential.
“We’re most proud of the numerous success stories of women stepping outside their comfort zone, meeting new people, developing themselves and reaching their goals as a result of the encouragement, challenge and support of the network,” Cerny said when talking about the Network’s successes.
But Cerny and Harden aren’t stopping any time soon. They’ve already planned 2020’s theme and are working to expand the network’s offerings and continue to drive diversity forward.
We spoke to Cerny and Harden about their careers at Continental and what they’ve learned from starting the women’s network. They also shared how they envision the future of the ERG, how it works with senior management at Continental to drive the most value, and how it exemplifies the autonomous, trusting and supportive culture of the company.
Tell us a bit about your job. What are your priorities at work?
Cerny: My team is responsible for forecasting volume and sales of our products across North America, as well as monitoring market intelligence to understand the impact on our business.
Harden: My team is responsible for the financial performance of Engine & Drivetrain Systems Business Unit in North America. We partner with the Product Line teams to meet objectives and drive the business while optimizing profitability.
What were you doing previously? What has your career path looked like?
We were both in roles of increasing responsibilities within our respective functions at Continental and involved in several special projects. With over 33 years of experience between us, we were looking for a way to have a greater impact within the organization.
How and why did you first get involved in your company’s women’s network?
We created our women’s network in the Detroit area to provide a means for bringing our female colleagues together to network, develop, grow, support and learn from each other. We also sponsor our 28 global networks to help drive diversity within the organization.
How did Continental provide additional support in the creation of the women’s forum?
From the start, we received great support from executives in the region. Two key allies were Jeff Klei, Automotive President, and Kregg Wiggins, VP Powertrain. Kregg and Jeff attended events, encouraged others to attend, provided budget, and advocated for Business Units to provide budget and support as well.
While building this group, what did you learn that surprised you most?
The power and magic of bringing people together, along with how great momentum comes once an initiative is started. Initially, we asked ladies to lead our committees. Now, we have a selection process and co-chairs to manage the growing interest.
What’s the #1 thing you think your colleagues should know — but probably don’t know — about your company’s women’s network?
The benefits of being part of this network. Once you get past the stereotype of being involved with a women’s network, you realize there are amazing growth and development opportunities, incredible support from those in the network and shared insights which help them reach their goals and aspirations.
Tell me a bit about how the ERG works.
Each year, we establish a theme and set our agenda for the following year around it. We work with HR to ensure we’re aligned and maximizing development opportunities within the organization. We do not have a designated budget, so when funds are needed, we partner with business units to sponsor activities.
We have 5 committees: Program, Communication, Outreach, #Notjustabookclub and Ambassador, a branding and women in STEM-focused committee. Committee Chairs meet monthly to review event plans, and we try to touch base with members each month.
What are your women’s network’s top three priorities right now?
Our top priority is bringing women together for networking, professional development and support! In terms of our programming, we align our themes each year with what’s happening within our organization as well as feedback from colleagues and our management team regarding main areas of focus. We started with “Networking”, “Awareness” and “Emotional Intelligence” the first three years then transitioned to “Risk Taking” and “Change” the past two years. As Continental continues to evolve, we will move our focus to “Ownership” next year.
With all the changes happening in the automotive industry and at Continental, our “Change” programming is focused on how we can partner with management to navigate these changes. We are also focused on the role each of us plays during change — managing what’s in our control, seeing change as an opportunity and keeping our perspectives in check.
How is your company’s women’s network reflective of the overall culture at your employer?
We exemplify several of our company’s cultural values:
Freedom to Act: The ERG is empowering women to act in their interests, or to invest in their career and development.
Passion to Win: The ERG is offering women the opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills outside of the possibilities in their daily jobs.
For One Another: The ERG demonstrates women supporting women, especially because it is led by volunteers working to support female colleagues.
Trust: Management entrusts the ERG to provide support to organization.
What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
Trust in your abilities, ask “what’s possible,” take the first step and get comfortable being uncomfortable!
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