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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.