Carolyn Cerny, Director of Marketing, and Janet Harden, North America Controller, founded the Continental Women’s Network in the Detroit area. They’ve helped grow it to 28 local chapters at Continental locations around the world – and they aren’t stopping there. Thanks to the Women’s Network’s personal development programs and networking opportunities, many women at Continental have the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and into their potential.
In October 2019, Carolyn and Janet spoke to diversity and inclusion thought leaders at Fairygodboss’s GALVANIZE event about how to start a strong women’s employee resource group (ERG). They also shared how they envision the future of the Women’s Network, how it works with senior management at Continental to drive the most value, and how it exemplifies the company’s autonomous, trusting and supportive culture.
There’s so much more we wanted to learn from Carolyn and Janet, so we asked them to tell us more about their careers at Continental and what they’ve learned from starting the Women’s Network.
About our jobs and our main priorities at work…
Carolyn: 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.
Janet: My team is responsible for the financial performance of the Engine and Drivetrain Systems Business Unit in North America. We partner with the Product Line teams to meet objectives and drive the business, while optimizing profitability.
Why we started the Continental Women’s Network…
Carolyn: We created it 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 Continental provided additional support to help create the Women’s Network…
Janet: From the start, we received great support from executives in the region. Two key allies were Jeff Klei, Automotive President, and Kregg Wiggins, Vice President of Powertrain. Kregg and Jeff attended events, encouraged others to attend, provided budget, and advocated for business units to provide budget and support, as well.
What we learned while building the network…
Carolyn: The power and magic of bringing people together, plus how great momentum can come once you start an initiative. Initially, we asked ladies to lead our committees. Now, we have a selection process and co-chairs to manage the growing interest.
The top thing we think our colleagues should know — but probably don’t know — about the Women’s Network…
Janet: 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. There’s also incredible support from the people in the network, and shared insights that help participants reach their goals and aspirations.
A bit about how the Women’s Network operates…
Carolyn: Each year, we establish a theme and set our agenda around it for the following year. We work with Human Resources 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 five committees: Program, Communication, Outreach, #Notjustabookclub and Ambassador, which is 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 we’re focused on…
Janet: 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, and with 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 the women’s network reflects our culture at Continental…
Carolyn: We exemplify several of our company’s cultural values:
- Freedom to Act: The ERG empowers women to act in their interests, and invest in their career and development.
- Passion to Win: The ERG offers 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 the organization.
This article was written by our employee.