Three influential women in the automotive sector shared their learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic at a Women with Drive online event yesterday (October 1).
Leanne Christmas, director of compliance at Alphabet and BMW Group Financial Services, Sam Watkins, commercial director at Manheim Vehicle Services and chair of the Vehicle Remarketing Association (VRA), and Jessica Geutner, vice president strategic customers at Salesforce, talked about the highs and lows of the pandemic, as well as sharing their thoughts on diversity and inclusion (D&I) at the event to mark National Inclusion Week (September 28 to October 4).
Christmas said that although BMW Group Financial Services had a flexible working culture prior to the pandemic it had helped everyone to embrace homeworking and had put everyone on a “level playing field”.
“It allowed us to be really quite open about where our priorities need to be,” she said. “And what we've absolutely managed to do is continue running the business in a really good way, and managing to serve our customers in a positive way so from a productivity point of view it seems to have gone really well.
“I think what it has also done is demonstrate that everyone's different and that work-life balance can manifest itself in different ways.”
Importance of mental health
Christmas explained how the pandemic had highlighted the importance of mental health.
“People have become more open with their mental health struggles,” she said.
“I've been lucky enough to do a Mental Health First Aid course which allowed me to understand it more and provide a bit more support.
“But had it not been for Covid, as much as I was a supporter of mental health before, it probably wouldn't get anywhere near the top of my priority list to do.
“And I think that's an absolutely essential thing for all of us to play a part in now.”
Watkins agreed that, for some people, working from home can bring a “loneliness that’s going to impact their mental health”.
However, on the flipside, she felt that working from home could create a huge opportunity for women who need to manage childcare responsibilities at the start and end of the day.
"There was no rulebook for any of this"
Watkins said that the pandemic had demonstrated her employees’ resilience as they faced the “double whammy” of the company having a new owner (C Walton was acquired by Cox Automotive at the beginning of March) and the impact of the pandemic.
“It's been incredible to see how people have been able to come together and I’ve been really impressed with how people have learned new skills and worked collaboratively to learn those new skills because, let's face it, there was no rulebook for any of this,” she said.
For Geutner, the pandemic has helped to break down barriers between suppliers and customers as video calls have allowed people to share their personal lives and be more informal that in an office environment.
“Communication started on a totally different level,” she said.
Meetings have been “much more real” and “much less hidden in PowerPoint (presentations)”, she said.
However, she acknowledged that working hours had been “stretched” and that when working globally people needed to respect each other’s situations and time zones or work-home life balance would be impacted.
“I feel that has blurred and we have to carefully take our freedom back on that,” she said.