Women working in traditionally male-dominated industries often find it difficult to make their presence known in a room full of male counterparts. Or, as IAA Senior Vice President of Global Marketing and Communications Jeanene O’Brien puts it, women might “neutralize” themselves initially.
But to O’Brien, soft-spoken or outspoken only matters if they’re being authentic. And that realization has been a critical part of her ascension through the automotive industry over nearly 25 years.
“Women tend not to be the first to speak, or tend not to be as assertive or as aggressive, or they’re careful with their word choice. It’s daunting,” O’Brien said. “But, this process has pushed me to kind of check myself to ask, ‘Am I bringing my authentic person here?’ If I have an opinion, I speak up. It has created a push for me to want to really have my voice heard and be an equal player in the room.”
O’Brien learned early in her career that being a woman in the automotive industry didn’t have to be a roadblock to success. She started at CCC, which is a technology leader pioneering solutions that power the automotive ecosystem in the United States, and worked under Mary Jo Prigge, the current Chief Service Delivery Officer of CCC. Seeing a woman flourish in a high-profile role in a male-dominated industry provided inspiration, and O’Brien still considers Prigge a friend and mentor.
“Having that opportunity to work for a woman in a very senior position is the kind of runway other women need,” O’Brien said. “If you don’t see your own reflection in higher positions, it’s really hard to see your path and aspire to that.”
O’Brien, like Prigge, was a pioneer in her own right when she transitioned to IAA in 2008, becoming the lone female vice president, then in 2017 senior vice president in the company. IAA recently hired Peg Burr as Senior Vice President of Product Development, and Susan Healy, executive vice president and CFO adding two women to the company’s 11-person executive team.
She praised IAA for its commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs and hiring initiatives that give not only women, but also those from all backgrounds, a chance to be honored throughout the company. IAA celebrated Women’s History Month this year both internally and externally, and O’Brien specifically celebrated each woman on her team for their accomplishments.
O’Brien also moderated a panel during Women’s History Month, giving the women of IAA an opportunity to discuss their career paths, mentors and wisdom they’ve received to reach their current positions in the automotive industry.
“What we’re doing is creating a space where people feel valued and heard. They feel they can be authentic, be themselves, feel they belong and share the uniqueness of who they are,” O’Brien said. “They don’t feel they have to fit a mold or act a certain way to be part of this organization, and I feel that’s so important.”
IAA’s executive team might be one of the most diverse in the industry, O’Brien believes. She noted that in addition to female representation with Burr, Healy and herself, the team includes perspective from multiple ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures. But when it comes to females in the industry, she’s curious why more companies aren’t following IAA’s progression.
“I think as an industry, we need to really take a look at how many females are in executive management. There are still companies that are directly in my industry that do not have female executives and frankly haven’t ever,” O’Brien said. “That’s shocking to me in 2021.”
For now, O’Brien and her IAA colleagues are happy to be an inspiration for success in the automotive industry, as well as other predominantly male industries. Nearly 25 years ago, she saw from Prigge how a woman can achieve a position of leadership among males, and she’s proud to be an example for more women.
“I know what it’s like to be the only person in the room who looks like me,” O’Brien said. “Being the only female was the path I traveled. Today, I see it changing, I see other women in the room. I want to be that springboard and encouraging women to step forward and be fully you.”