New Women's Forum Seeks to Boost Advancement, Employment and Business Opportunities in Automotive Industry's Southern Region

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Women auto executives launch organization to encourage greater female job growth, employment in male-dominated auto industry. Nissan, Ford Executives Bring Clout to Organization, Nashville Conference.

Comparatively young at 30 years old, the South’s automotive industry has experienced explosive growth. Southeastern states are now home to eleven different automotive facilities in various stages of planning and operation; thousands of supplier organizations—large and small; and tens of thousands of jobs spread across the region.

In Tennessee alone, Nissan has its national headquarters and manufacturing facilities; and Volkswagen is building a major new manufacturing plant. Alabama has Hyundai and Mercedes. Other automotive facilities exist in Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina.

But from one senior automotive official’s perspective something was missing. In Detroit Susan Brennan, Nissan’s vice president for manufacturing, was involved in an influential organization that encouraged and supported women in automotive careers. When Nissan opened its new North American headquarters just outside Nashville, Tennessee, she had a rude awakening. Despite the South’s increasing growth in the automotive industry no similar support organization for women existed in the Southeast region.

That was then. This is now. Enter the Southern Automotive Women’s Forum. The SAWF’s primary function is to promote the personal and professional advancement of women in the automotive industry who live in the Southern region of the U.S. The non-profit SAWF was created by Susan Brennan, also the organization’s president.

SAWF launches its inaugural event, a Southern regional conference August 12 in Nashville at the Sheraton Nashville Downtown. In addition to remarks from Susan Brennan, the conference will hear from Donna Inch, the Chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company’s Land Development Corporation. This corporation is a full-service real estate company that plans, constructs, manages and redevelops property worldwide. Opening speaker is Lyn St. James, who competed in seven Indianapolis 500 races and earned the top “Rookie Award” in 1992.

Then, a panel of speakers will discuss automotive equipment manufacturing, automotive suppliers and other related topics for those attending. For information on the SAWF conference contact: Rosie Dykes—rosie(dot)dykes(at)tnchamber(dot)org or call 615-256-5141.

According to SAWF’s president Susan Brennan: “The Southern Automotive Women’s Forum will play a unique role in the development of the 21st century automotive industry. As technology evolves and the marketplace shifts, women are seeking out highly skilled leadership positions in the emerging industry. The organization will not only provide women a network of like-minded professionals and forward thinking companies but also will cultivate a new generation of women interested in the automotive industry through the pursuit of advanced education and training. Women will play a critical role as the automotive industry relies increasingly on innovative human capital, and the Southern Automotive Women’s Forum will help to give female automotive professionals a seat at the table through collaboration with each other and mentoring of promising young females.”

Fresh from its success with a new Volkswagen plant in the state, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development was eager to become a lead facilitator for the SAWF conference.

In a typically male-dominated industry SAWF programs will be invaluable to women ready to make further advancements. Programs will facilitate women’s advancement in the industry’s Southern region by:

  •     Providing professional and personal development to advance the careers of women;
  •     Get access to role models for young women interested in pursuing careers in technical and engineering fields, with a focus on skills that transfer to the global automotive industry; and
  •     Support programs and forums that support improved, new educational process to attract and encourage young women to pursue technical degrees and academic courses.

Women’s advancement in the automotive industry is also strongly supported by additional organizations, including Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz law firm, University of Tennessee—Center for Industrial Services and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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Peter Woolfolk
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