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Women in the automotive industry

It’s a simple fact that women are outnumbered by men in the automotive industry. However, over the years there have been women who have worked to confound stereotypes, blaze a trail and defy not just traditions, but laws, too.

Now, companies and organisations are developing initiatives to combat stereotypes and knock down barriers by actively encouraging more women into the industry, but there’s still work to be done. Arnold Clark aims to increase the number of female employees by 5% over the next three years. Here, we show how women are already making a mark within the company.

33% of the automotive industry are women.

(Source)

43% of women don’t trust the automotive industry.

(Source)

85% of car buying decisions are influenced by women.

(Source)

Timeline

These extraordinary women have broken down barriers to pursue their dreams and make their mark in the automotive history books. Scroll down to read their stories.

  • 1888

    Bertha Benz

    Pforzheim, Germany

    Bertha was married to Karl Benz, the engineer who developed the first practical automobile in 1886. A marketing whizz, Bertha helped her husband bring his invention to the masses by completing the world’s first long-distance road trip in a private, petroleum-powered car.

  • 1903

    Mary Anderson

    Birmingham, Alabama, US

    In 1903, Mary Anderson invented the first windshield wipers that attached to the outside of a car, featuring a spring-loaded arm with a rubber blade. Drivers are still benefitting from this clever invention today!

  • 1916

    Alice Burke and Nell Richardson

    New York, USA

    Sponsored by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Alice Burke and Nell Richardson began a 10,000-mile trip across America in their ‘Golden Flier’ Saxon to drum up support for voting rights for women. The car became a symbol for the suffrage movement, and was used as a podium for speeches in many towns and cities.

  • 1943

    Helene Rother

    Leipzig, Germany

    Helene Rother became the first female automobile designer in 1943 when she joined General Motors. She went on to carve out an impressive career with General Motors and Nash Automobiles.

  • 1968

    Rose Boland, Eileen Pullen, Vera Sime, Gwen Davis and Sheila Douglass

    Dagenham, UK

    These fearless women began the sewing machinists strike at Ford Motor Company’s Dagenham plant in 1968. Their strike was the trigger for the passing of the UK Equal Pay Act 1970.

  • 1975

    Lella Lombardi

    Frugarolo, Italy

    Maria Grazia ‘Lella’ Lombardi became the first (and only) female Formula One driver to have a top six finish in a World Championship race at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.

  • 1993

    Penny Mallory

    London, UK

    Penny became the first woman to compete in a world rally car, and went on to become the National Ladies Champion Rally Driver in 1993.

  • 2008

    Danica Patrick

    Beliot, Wisconsin, USA

    A professional racing driver, model and advertising spokeswoman, Danica made history when she became the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race in Japan in 2008.

  • 2011

    Manal al-Sharif

    Mecca, Saudi Arabia

    Manal al-Sharif was imprisoned for posting a video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia. She became the face of the Women2Drive campaign, a campaign against the fatwa on women driving in Saudi Arabia. The ban was lifted in September 2017, with changes taking effect in June 2018.

  • 2014

    Mary T Barra

    Waterford, Michigan, USA

    Mary T Barra became Chairman and CEO of General Motors Company in 2014; making history as the first female CEO of a major global automaker.

  • 2017

    Brehanna Daniels

    Norfolk, Virginia, USA

    Brehanna Daniels made history when she became the first African-American female tyre changer in NASCAR.

Current issues

Women can and have achieved great things in the automotive industry, so why are they still so poorly represented?

Two male car salesmen in showroom

The automotive industry is one of the most famously male-dominated work environments. For some, the car world seems like an impenetrable ‘old boys’ club’, with a strong male culture that fosters sexism, discrimination and unequal pay.

Linda Jackson - CEO of Citroën Linda Jackson - CEO of Citroën© Citroën Communications Division

Despite this enduring reputation, things are changing. Linda Jackson, CEO of Citroën, has noticed significant improvements during the four decades she’s worked in the industry, commenting in an interview with Red Magazine, ‘There’s a perception that it’s a very macho world and I think we need to change that. It was a very macho world 30 years ago, but the world has changed.’

Is this prevailing ‘macho’ image really enough to deter women from pursuing careers in the industry?

For Barb Samardzich, Vice President and COO for Ford of Europe, the root of the problem is in education. Barb believes that the most stubborn challenge for women is the ‘chronic shortage of women in engineering.’ For her, the problem starts at school, where gender stereotyping can prevent females from continuing studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

Students walking through school

It would seem that the figures back this theory up. In a recent Accenture survey, almost a third of young people said they thought boys were more likely to choose STEM subjects because they were better matched to ‘male’ jobs. This schoolyard stereotype translates into a grossly uneven playing field in the world of work; in the UK, women make up just 14% of the STEM workforce.

Yet the industry isn’t all engineering and car sales – there’s a huge breadth of automotive-related career prospects, from marketing and finance to journalism, driving and design. But despite the sector’s wide variety of rewarding jobs and careers, there’s a tendency for women to be found in more generalist roles.

Looping images of women in business

A recent report issued by the Department for Transport highlights this trend, where figures showed that males were more likely to work in specialist roles such as testing and engineering, and women in administrative or generalist functions.

It’s perhaps easier to imagine yourself in a job when you can see what people have accomplished before you. However, with a historically male-dominated environment comes a lack of female role models. This has always been a significant barrier for getting girls interested in cars, but the tide is turning.

Jamie Chadwick, British GT racer, acknowledged in an interview with Red Bull that there has already been noticeable improvements in motorsport in recent years:

‘Sport is changing… We’re pretty fortunate to have a number of strong female role models at the top of motorsport now, like Susie Wolff, Katherine Legge, Claire Williams and Leena Gade, all of whom surely must serve as some inspiration to the young girls who want to start karting. We didn’t have that 10 years ago and it will make a significant difference.’
Katherine Legge - DTM Driver Katherine Legge - DTM Driver© Crosathorian, via Wikimedia Commons

The industry is clearly shifting gears and recognising the positive impact that women are making.

Yet it’s not just attracting female talent to the industry that presents a challenge, it’s retaining them too. A Deloitte study found that a startling 57% of women working in the automotive industry feel that there’s an industry bias towards men for leadership roles. If women working in the sector can’t see a path for progression, then they’re not likely to stick around for long.

Girl and boy teenagers looking at smartphone

If these feelings are correct, then the industry simply has to wake up and move with the times. A KPMG study called Think Future asked youngsters from Generation Z (born in the mid to late 1990s to early 2010s) if a sector’s reputation for gender equality would influence their decision to work in it. 48% said yes.

It’s clear that something’s got to give. Although perceptions are changing and more and more women are becoming inspiring role models for others, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. The good news is that there are plenty of initiatives working towards bridging the gap in the industry and making it a fairer place to work. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

Looping image of current issues and how to address them

Initiatives

A number of initiatives have been launched to help create a more balanced workforce and provide more visible role models for young women and girls. From the inspiration and interactivity of Dare to be Different, to the corporate ambitions of manufacturer schemes, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future for women in the automotive industry.

Susie Wolff - Founder of Dare to be Different Susie Wolff - Founder© Dare to be Different

Dare to be Different

With the tagline 'Driving Female Talent', Dare to be Different aims to inspire the next generation of female talent, build connections at a young age and showcase a diverse range of inspirational role models. The initiative was founded by Susie Wolff, veteran driver of Formula Renault, Formula Three, FRM and Formula One, along with Rob Jones, Chief Executive of the Motor Sports Association.

Dare to be Different aims to reach out to girls from every walk of life in order to challenge stereotypes within the industry and build a community for women who want to build a career within motorsport.

Speaking to Arnold Clark, Susie Wolff said:

‘I wanted to give something back to the sport that had given me so much. Dare to be Different is about making the sport more accessible and it’s about showing young girls and women that motorsport is for them. It’s not just for men or boys.’

They run a number of headline events, which invite 100 girls between 8 and 10 years old to kart tracks for motorsport initiation days. As well as getting a taste for racing, they are also given media training, experience of what’s it’s like to be a mechanic in a pit lane, and the opportunity to test their engineering skills by building a hover board; all to show the varied careers available within the industry.

Ambassadors include: Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal of Williams F1 Racing Team; Rachel Brookes, Sky Sports F1 presenter; Ruth Buscombe, Senior Strategy Engineer at Sauber; and racing drivers Tatiana Calderon and Alice Powell. They ensure that this initiative maintains a high profile and act as strong examples for the next generation.

Susie Wolff - Founder© Dare to be Different
Volkswagen - A Day in their Shoes Volkswagen - A Day in their Shoes© 2010 Volkswagen UK and Newspress

Volkswagen - A Day in their Shoes

Volkswagen Group is ahead of the curve in the automotive industry as 42% of their workforce is female compared to the industry standard of just 16%. While this figure indicates progress, representation does not reach all the way up the corporate ladder.

Volkswagen wants more women in senior roles and has set the target of 30% female representation on the Board of Management by 2021. To achieve this, they have set a number of broad objectives, including inspiring people to join the industry, encouraging female secondary school students to think about the industry and ensuring equal opportunities within the business.

They kicked off their campaign with the ‘A Day in their Shoes’ event at their head office in Buckinghamshire. A number of speakers were invited to talk about the different approaches taken by men and women and the importance of diversity.

Penny Burnett, Human Resources Director at Volkswagen Group, said:

‘The evidence is clear: when an organisation has a truly diverse workforce, it’s more innovative, better at responding to customer needs and ultimately more successful. We’ve been trying to respond to this for some time now, but change won’t happen fast enough organically. We need to do more to accelerate the speed of change and that’s why events like ‘A Day in their Shoes’ are so important.’

While this day began the conversation, it was part of a much larger strategy within the company. The Group followed with the launch of the ‘Take a Step in Their Shoes’ initiative that allows men and women to pair up and shadow each other to gain a wider understanding of their strengths and work processes.

While this initiative is helping to bridge understanding within the company, Volkswagen also have a programme to encourage female talent at the beginning of their careers as part of their apprenticeship programme. Women account for just 7% of the intake of the Volkswagen Group’s prestigious training programme. Through the #DrivenWomen campaign, they hope to inspire others to begin a career in the automotive industry. The hashtag is used across their social media channels along with quotes and images from women who have enjoyed successful careers at Volkswagen. It is hoped that by sharing these success stories, more school leavers will consider a career within the industry.

Volkswagen - A Day in their Shoes© 2010 Volkswagen UK and Newspress
Amy Rimmer - Research Engineer, Jaguar Land Rover Amy Rimmer - Research Engineer, JLR© 2017 Autocar

Autocar’s Great British Women in the Car Industry

One of the primary challenges in bringing female talent into the industry is ensuring that there are prominent role models. Autocar's annual 'Great British Women in the Car Industry' is a celebration of the great talent within the industry, highlighting the achievements of women throughout the sector. Candidates can be nominated by friends, colleagues or employers and are shortlisted based on their influence, potential influence and their dedication to a career within the sector. The initiative is supported by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) along with Ford and Jaguar Land Rover.

The awards are broken down into different categories, which highlight the diversity of careers available within the automotive sector, from engineering, development and manufacturing to HR, marketing, sales and communications. The event also showcases rising stars within the industry with an award for apprentices. Following nominations, a list of 100 influential women was compiled, as well as winners across nine categories. The overall winner for 2017 was Amy Rimmer, Research Engineer, Autonomous Vehicle Control and Jaguar Land Rover.

Rimmer graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in mechanical engineering. She completed an internship with McLaren in 2009 and went on to work for Rolls Royce following her graduation. From there, she took her PhD, working with Volvo trucks on an algorithm to allow lorries with more than one trailer to reverse autonomously. Upon completion of her doctorate, she began work as part of a 20-strong team at Warwick University, leading Jaguar Land Rover's research.

Speaking to Autocar, Amy said:

'I'm really passionate about my job and I'm really conscientious, so I'm really happy that's been recognised. The fact that I work in autonomy is a really hot topic and hopefully more people will be attracted to come and work in the car industry. It's been a long path but now I'm at Jaguar Land Rover, it's the best job that I've had.'
Amy Rimmer - Research Engineer, JLR© 2017 Autocar
Business talk as part of the UK Automotive 30% Club Julia Muir - CEO, Gaia Innovation Ltd© Gaia Innovation Ltd

UK Automotive 30% Club

The UK Automotive 30% Club is a voluntary group of managing directors and CEOs from automotive manufacturing, retailing and supplier companies. Their aim is to ensure that women gain 30% representation in key leadership positions by 2030.

The organisation was founded by Julia Muir, CEO of Gaia Innovation Ltd, a non-profit social enterprise which facilitates connections between students and employers. Muir is an industry veteran and began her career at Perry’s Motor Sales and spent 11 years at working at Ford.

Speaking to AM Online, Muir said:

‘I feel strongly that there isn’t such a thing as the female market. Women are half the population, differentiated only by one pair of chromosomes. But it has become very easy – and common – to say ‘we don’t employ many women’ therefore we don’t understand the female market. The industry doesn’t attract women to see the reality. It isn’t people covered in oil with spanners or in a sheepskin coat on a used car lot.’

To help the industry move beyond the perceived clichés, the Club has a four-stage plan in order to achieve better balance within the industry:

  • Reach out - The 30% Club will visit schools, universities and other institutions in order to build awareness of the diverse range of careers options.
  • Welcome in - Women are less likely than men to apply for a job if they do not meet the full criteria. In addition, recruiters have an unconscious bias towards male candidates. Experiments with blind recruitment where names are removed from CVs led to more women being selected for interview.
  • Pull through - Cultural norms have dictated that women have less confidence in their potential to progress. Senior management must reach into the talent pool and encourage progression rather than waiting for individuals to put themselves forward.
  • Hold on - Talent retention is vital but the expectations of working hours within the automotive industry are unrealistic and impractical. With young people gravitating towards the more balanced digital industry, automotive has to initiate change quickly.

The organisation has a number of high profile members including Ducati UK, Bentley, Mazda, Toyota, Volkswagen Group and Vertu Motors plc. It also works in partnership with the Institute of the Motor Industry, Speakers for Schools and the Inspiring Women campaign.

Julia Muir - CEO, Gaia Innovation Ltd© Gaia Innovation Ltd

Women at Arnold Clark

 

Women make up 24% of the company currently and we are aiming to increase our female workforce by 5% over the next three years to redress the gender balance.

Find out how you could make a difference with a career in the automotive industry.

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