Toyota, like many organizations, has focused on supporting women in the workplace. In February, they hosted the Toyota Connected North America’s Women in Technology (WiT) panel in to discuss diversity in the workplace. The event didn’t just cover work-related items, but what inspired these women to follow their technology career dreams.
“Growing up, my mom was the first woman controller of a Japanese company in the 80s,” Jen Cohen, CEO and founder of Lights On Advantage, a technology and digital readiness advisory organization, and former CIO and VP of Core Operations, Research, and Engineering at Toyota Research Institute. “One of her good friends was an inventor. He found out that I wanted to do history, so he pulled me aside and gave me a tour of the factory. He talked to me about technology. I already liked technology, but … that inside look was what sparked my love for it.
Opportunity Builds Better Teams
Throughout her career, Cohen spent a lot of time being the sole woman in the room. And she wasn’t alone. But it’s key that each woman elevates each other as they rise through the ranks. For Charan Lota, group vice president and executive chief engineer of Toyota Motors North America Connected Technologies, an opportunity to prove this diversity impetus occurred when she was asked to move the Connected Technologies team to Texas.
Lota remembered a competent cost planner that had taken the initiative to reach out in person—just an accountant and cost finance professional doing their due diligence. When Lota transferred her to the new team, she promoted her to over-the-air updates, and mentored her through the transition.
“Within a year, not only did she learn how to do that, but she became an expert,” Lota said. “Once she mastered that, we moved her to the office of Connected Technology … [where] she kept growing.”
Lota fondly remembered that this woman would take any opportunity given. When offered a job in Japan, she took the three-year commitment—an assignment she’s still on—exemplifying a person who faced the yawing unknown to become resounding successful.
“She’s a great example of someone embracing opportunities,” Lota said. “I don’t think she has any fear. But that’s also coupled with managers [and] leaders embracing her. It’s a two-sided thing.”
Mentoring for Inclusion
Mentoring others, as Lota did with the woman in her example, is crucial in accelerating diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. Cohen mentors 13 women and three startups, pro bono.
“I do that because I want to give back. It feeds my soul,” Cohen said. “This is something that I’m passionate about.”
But it takes more than just women supporting and providing opportunities for other women. It takes allies. It takes all employees working together to build a better tomorrow.
“We won’t solve this problem just with [diversity] initiatives—although we need them,” Cohen said. “We will solve them by bringing others with us.”