Skip to content

An Interview with CADIA's Founder and CEO, Cheryl Thompson -- What International Women's Day Means to Me

photo of cheryl thompson speaking at a podiiumThis interview by Reuters with Cheryl Thompson is republished with permission.

Q: What does International Women's Day mean to you?

A:  IWD is learning about, celebrating and honoring the women that paved the way for us, it is about lifting other women up and raising awareness to what we can bring to the bottom line, and it is about inviting men to be our allies.

Q:  When you began your career, did you imagine that you would become a female leader in a male-dominated industry/profession?

A:  No, I accidentally landed in automotive as a tool and die apprentice. I would listen to the men I worked with complain about the “boss man”, and I thought I don’t EVER want to be in that position. Well, I overcame that hurdle, and I remember just smiling to myself knowing some may be complaining about the “boss woman”, and that’s ok.

Q: What does it mean to you to work in the automotive industry?

A:  To me working in the automotive industry is all about the people. I believe relationships are currency – it is how we get things done. I still love the smell of a manufacturing facility – it gets into your blood. As we used to say, “I have chips in my shoes”. Chips meaning – machining chips. I am still fascinated by our ability to make something out of nothing. I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years, and I can say without a doubt, this is the most exciting time to be here.

Q:  How can women –and men! – support other women in the automotive industry? [i.e. mentorship and allyship]

A:  We all know that women are underrepresented in the automotive industry. I believe this industry has the BEST problem-solving tools that help us identify and solve for root cause. We need to apply those tools to this challenge. A lack of women is a symptom of a bigger issue – actually several issues. Mentoring and allyship can only get us so far. We need to be strategic and systemic in our thinking and use tools like the 5 Whys, PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act), 8D, y = f(x), and many more.

Q:  What steps can the automotive industry take to continue to grow a more diverse (equitable and inclusive) organization? [i.e. recruiting and retention]

A:  We need to be more inclusive with our recruiting and need to put more of a focus on retention. Let’s learn from attrition and take the steps to REALLY change the culture - it is time. We can do all of the inclusive recruiting we want, but if the culture isn’t ready to receive them, they will leave. Let’s define the behaviors we expect of our leaders and hold each other accountable to living out these behaviors on a day to day basis – even when it is hard. One of my favorite quote is, “your culture is defined by the worst behavior you tolerate”. Words to live by in my view.

Q:  What advice can you share to young women coming into a male dominated industry like Automotive or Tech?

A:  Surround yourself with a tribe of those who lift you up and support you.  If you find yourself around people who say, “I’m not sure she can”, you need a new tribe.  I was able to make a significant leap once I surrounded myself with people that said, “of course she can”. My second piece of advice is to have a few different mentors, and at least one should be outside of your company to broaden your perspective. My last piece of advice is, do not sell yourself short. Everyone has a bit of imposter syndrome – accept that and carry on.

Q:  And finally, what is your advice to the next generation of automotive female leaders?

A:  You belong. We need you. When I got my first leadership position, I remember being in the room with my new peers thinking, “hmmm….I thought you guys had it all figured out”. They don’t. Step up and let’s go!!