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SW x HOLDEN: Championing change for women

Samantha Wills

When I am approached to be a spokesperson for a brand, I ask two questions. The first; What is the campaign key messaging? And secondly; What is the company doing internally to support that?
— Samantha Wills

It is incredibly important to me to know that a brand or business walks the talk. It's easy to make promises and say the right things, but it's another thing entirely to deliver on this. Holden's internal values are something to be celebrated, and as such, I was also lucky enough to interview Jo Markham - the Managing Director of OnStar GM International - about the internal work Holden does to ensure equal opportunities for women. 

Newly appointed to the position of Managing Director – OnStar GM International, Jo Markham leads a talented team responsible for the future introduction of OnStar into GM (Holden) vehicles in Australia, New Zealand and other countries in our region.  During her career of more than 22 years, including roles in Aftersales, Quality and Global Engineering, Jo has developed a reputation for engaging leadership, business acumen and focus on service.   Outside of her professional world, Jo cherishes time spent with her husband and 8-year-old son.

Historically male-dominated, the motor industry wouldn’t be an obvious career choice for some females - so, how did you come to work for Holden? 

I was studying Electrical Engineering and not really drawn to the telecommunication sector where many of my fellow students were looking.   I was part of a social group that enjoyed watching the V8 Supercars and attending the track to watch when we could at Sandown or Phillip Island.  The idea to join the automotive industry bubbled up from there.   I never really considered whether it was a male-dominated industry – I was just looking for something I knew I would enjoy.

Holden has been doing a lot of amazing things around women in business – how do you think this is shifting social norms for women in the industry?

Change has to start somewhere. Holden continues to hold a strong profile / brand awareness across a broad section of Australia’s communities. Our priority has been to make changes within our own internal culture – any impact that has on the broader social norms for women in industry, as a result of our strong profile, is a really positive thing. We can be proud of that. Inappropriate social norms will only be challenged and changed when those companies &/or individuals with a strong profile set a higher standard – hopefully others follow Holden’s example.

The theme around International Women’s Day earlier this year was ‘Push for Progress’ – what does this mean for you, and how do you feel this will shape the workforce for women to come?

An interesting question - I think I would have given different answers at different stages of my career / experience / maturity. Right now for me, this means recognising how far we have come in terms of gender equality in the workplace …. but also acknowledging that we still have a way to go.  ‘Old school’ attitudes still exist.  I have a responsibility to speak up when I see that and to lead by example. Society is changing - future employees (both male & female) will have much stronger expectations around gender equality in the workforce – we’ll see far more women achieving their work / career aspirations, whatever they may be.

What have you noticed as the biggest change in the landscape of women in business since you first entered the workforce?

Things were still pretty rough when I first entered the workforce – none of those sexist attitudes would be accepted today. We have clear training / communication around what behaviours are acceptable. If you step outside those boundaries, there will be serious consequences.  As more women succeed across the business, particularly in ‘big’ roles, role models become more visible and momentum continues. I do think women are more supportive of women nowadays – that hasn’t always been the case, particularly when women were getting so few opportunities to rise to leadership roles etc.  I’m particularly pleased we now have a very supportive culture.

Holden’s commitment to a Supported Workplace, ensuring equity across job roles is a huge step toward gender equality – can you talk to how this has impacted your role in the business and career progression?

As one of the first ‘home-grown’ female senior leaders, I recognise that I am a role model for other women in our business.  I commit significant time to mentoring women, attending speaking events, etc.  I don’t know that being a woman has necessarily impacted my career progression – the behaviours & results I have delivered over the years has done that (I’m an extroverted, confident sort of personality) – but I do hope that my leadership has given other women the confidence to strive for their career goals.

My gratitude to Holden and their entire team for the incredible steps they are taking towards gender equality in the workforce.

- SW x