AKRON—It's no secret that the employment ranks of the tire industry is dominated by men, from the factory floor to the executive suite.
But there is a place for women all along the way, according to a handful of women who find themselves deep into their careers in the business.
Women working in tires, like countless other industries, find themselves up against obstacles that men simply do not face. These biases are baked into the business world that's long been dominated by men.
Entering the tire business as a female and then becoming successful was just one topic of a live panel discussion on leadership at the International Tire Exhibition & Conference Sept. 16.
Cara Adams is director of race tire engineering and production at Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations. She oversees the company's entire production process for race tires, from design to manufacturing and management.
Adams has been with the company since 2003, so she's experienced a lot in the world of tires. And she's not afraid to admit a misstep early in her career.
"As far as what advice I would give back to a young woman, one of the things that I did wrong when I started … I thought I had to work harder than a man," Adams said.
"I always thought I had to prove myself just a little bit more just because I was a female. And that came off as arrogance. It didn't come off as I was really trying or I was working hard. It came off as I was trying to position myself above other people," she said.
"Be yourself. Work hard. That's the most important thing," Adams said.
"Whatever you want to do, we have successful women in all areas of our company and across the industry, so there's a lot of amazing things you can do. But never feel you have to prove yourself just because you are a woman," she said.
Catherine Loss is head of retread worldwide for Continental and has been with the company since 2006.
She suggested women get out of their comfort zones and be willing to "constantly put yourself on that edge. Maybe it was a little bit easier when I was naive and 22, and a little more challenging the older I get. To me, that's one of the main things I like to say that's really driven me as a leader," she told the panel.
There was a time when Loss was 27 and turned down a new opportunity because she did not think she had the necessary experience. But after initially turning down the job, a talk with her future boss' supervisor convinced her to take it.
"He asked me: 'Do you want to be part of change or do you want to drive change?' " she said.
Both options were good, she remembers him saying, but that question caused her to step back and rethink the offer. "I was so thankful he asked me the right question so I could look past my fears."
Sure, the new assignment was hard, but it also helped Loss learn and grow as a leader.
"Be yourself and be authentic. When I took over my first leadership role, somebody gave me a book that said, 'Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman.' And I thought what? That's just not me. I ended up throwing it in the trash because I didn't want to play like a man.
"I figured if I was going to be able to make it, then I need to be who I was, and I can only recommend that you be who you are. Be yourself and stay true to yourself with the knowledge that you are good enough," Loss said.
She said being an effective leader means being willing to put yourself out there to ask the tough question in the room that everybody might be thinking, but reluctant to say. And don't be afraid to share your unique perspective.
Andrea Berryman, director of product management for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., said women tend not to apply for jobs unless they are pretty certain they are qualified. Men, on the other hand, tend to do the opposite and reach for jobs where they have fewer qualifications than what's needed.
She suggests women adopt the same practice. "Even if you feel you don't have the qualifications for it, go for it. The guys are," she said.
Berryman said ethics and charting your own course are two areas especially important for women.
Leadership, Berryman said, has nothing to do with job title. "Leadership can be at the entry level and all the way through your entire career," she said.
Berryman's own leadership style, she said, is to lead by example.
"The three most important things for me for my entire career have been my integrity, my continuous desire to learn and then, also, I know everybody says it, personal balance," she said.
"It can be really difficult sometimes to stick to your gut on your decisions. Always doing the right thing isn't necessarily popular. But again, it simplifies how you do business. Somebody you talk to will always know they are getting the straight scoop from you. And, for me, that means I want to deliver the best product, no matter what. And that's my only motive in this process. I've actually had some people during my career that have said I would go nowhere because of my unwillingness to compromise on my ethics," Berryman said.
Becoming a director at major tire company, she said, proves her approach worked.
"My team knows that they can trust what I'm saying," Berryman said. "They know I'm being upfront with them and not trying to hide anything."
Berryman also pointed to the importance of being a continuous learner in her career and how that has allowed her to move from one job to another within the tire industry to gain a broad perspective. This varied experience, she said, gives her a leg up on being able to communicate within various segments of the industry.
Family balance, Berryman added, is another important key to her success. That has meant taking pauses at different points in her career, but she said that was her own call, and it has made the decision work for her. She also preaches the importance of work-family balance to those she oversees and understands that family commitments can sometimes conflict with business.
Stephanie Beaulac is vice president of human resources at Yokohama Tire, so she comes at the topic of female leadership from a slightly different perspective.
"This isn't about being in a man's world. This is about changing the way we conduct business today. Women shouldn't have to change to fit in," she said. "If we want more females in leadership roles, companies need to evolve. And we have a responsibility to ensure a culture and a work environment that supports females and increases opportunities for advancement.
"Women are underrepresented in every leadership role in every different sector," Beaulac said. "We all need to extend a hand to other women. So I encourage all of those who are listening to reach out, to be a mentor, be a coach, a friend. Help others around us succeed. As leaders, we need to create an environment where females feel supported and feel confident to speak up."