Zoé Zeigler On Toyota, ColorComm, And Rising Together As Women Of Color
MN: Has it been difficult working in a male-dominated industry?
ZZ: In the automotive industry there are more women than you think there are, though it remains true that at the higher levels of leadership that number drops significantly. One of the best things I learned from my mentor, Latondra Newton, who is the most senior ranking woman at Toyota and the most senior ranking African-American woman in the whole automotive industry, is to embrace the differences between female and male leadership. Most women feel pressured to conform to the way men do things: Be more forthright, aggressive, decisive, etc. however there are numerous strengths to being a woman in business. We have a greater ability to bring consensus to a room and can easily break down the parts of the big picture, focusing on the details that make up the whole. Women need to know what we bring to the table when working with the men around us.
MN: What role did you play in helping Toyota reclaim its reputation after the recall years?
ZZ: We all learned a lot around the recall days, such as how to get ahead of the story and how to be more transparent. When we launched the Sienna Minivan for example, it was important to connect with moms and parents who were concerned about the safety of the vehicle for their children. We came up with the idea to take them through the process of how the cars are designed. We put together a Mommy Blogger event where they took a tour of our design studio and participated in a scavenger hunt in the Sienna Minivan; they traveled around Newport Beach, CA, collecting goods from various non-profits and donating them to charity. Over 35 media stories and blog posts were generated from that event, we were able to show these moms that safety never stopped being a priority for Toyota.
MN: What can women can do to move up in their careers?
ZZ: Working at Toyota I’ve had about eight different roles. They don’t always come from someone saying, “Hey Zoé want to do this?” Sometimes it’s knowing what I want to do and raising my hand. Half of the roles have come from being pro-active and at times even creating a whole new specialty for myself. Like I said, although I’m not a “gear-head” I am happy at any company where I feel that my needs are being fulfilled. In Corporate America your team is your most important asset. Invest in them and make them feel that you are not only interested in your growth but theirs as well. I know that my mentor has not only been instrumental in telling me what to do but advocating for me behind-the-scenes as well, and I think as women we all need someone who makes sure our name is being mentioned in the important meetings. We don’t get anywhere on our own.
MN: That seems to lead directly to your work at ColorComm.
ZZ: We as women, Black women especially in this field of communications and marketing where at the top levels there aren’t much of us there, need to support each other and make sure that we are rising together. I often have recent graduates who reach out to me who want to ask about my experiences or about how to transition from one field to another and I feel it’s my duty to be responsive to those requests.
MN: Tell me more about the organization.
ZZ: ColorComm started in Washington, DC, and is a resource for women of color in communications. It provides us with the opportunity to see, learn and hear from highly successful women of color. The organizations mission is to personally connect women with other like-minded individuals to build strong networks of leaders through mentor/mentee relationships and friendships. For one of our events, for example, 15 ColorComm members were able to sit down to dinner with Marvet Britto, the CEO of The Britto Agency, a top celebrity PR and brand strategy firm. That night we had girl talk as well as discussed ways to elevate Black women within the industry.