The women conquering the car business
by Mike Rutherford
How is Britain’s automotive industry doing in the battle for gender equality? How come it attracts so many boys and men, but not nearly as many girls and women? Why oh why isn’t there more diversity, less imbalance?
If anyone can answer those questions, the high achieving women featured in this article can. They all rose to the top in the fast-paced car business and its associated industries. That’s why their real-world advice is so valuable, insightful…and inspirational.
Each one embarked on and enjoys a long and successful career in the automotive sector. Now they’re keen to see other women from all backgrounds follow in their footsteps. At least one of these industry leaders believes there has never been a better time than now for females to join and establish rewarding careers for themselves in the rapidly-changing car business.
So what’s stopping you?
Rebecca Adamson is Head of Automobile at Honda (UK) and isn’t afraid to admit that females continue to face challenges in today’s automotive industry.
“But I’m not sure there are any that are unique to women,” she says. “There are certainly more women in the industry now, and there’s possibly less surprise when we make it to more senior positions. Maybe that is our challenge – to encourage more people to look past the outdated automotive stereotype.
“Discrimination definitely exists, but no more than in any other area of society. Where I have encountered discrimination, it’s been short-lived and generally presents itself in the form of low expectations – which simply makes it easier to exceed them. For me, the priority is around attracting more people to the industry from every walk of life, as well as increasing the diversity across the board.”
And Rebecca’s no-nonsense advice to women thinking of a career in the car business?
“Go for it – 26 years in and I’ve had some incredible experiences and opportunities.”
Jaguar Brand Director, Anna Gallagher is happy that there are far more senior women in the automotive industry than a decade ago…but.
“We are still under-represented. I continue to experience archetypal thinking, that to be successful you have to be pushy and aggressive, to over-exaggerate that you aren’t a ‘pushover’. This simply isn’t true. Female and male colleagues have proven that you can make great advances. We need to concentrate on erasing this stereotype.
“There needs to be a recognition that diversity is what drives better customer experiences, better products, and therefore business success…making sure that early careers are attracting diversity, that we nurture it, and truly value it. The different skills that diversity brings will allow the automotive industry to adapt to changing customers and their expectations.
Anna has two short, simple words for women, young and old, thinking of joining the automotive industry:
“Do it,” she says.
Mandy Dean, Director of Commercial Vehicles at Ford of Britain and Ireland feels there has never been a more exciting time for women to be part of the industry.
“Although great strides are being made to attract and retain greater diversity of employees, there are still gaps to be addressed from apprentice to executive level. Visibility of a diverse workforce in every aspect of the industry is key to encourage young people of all backgrounds to visualise their future in the sector, and to show that jobs at the very highest level are open to all.
“Opportunities for promotion and professional self-improvement are regularly cited as being one of the highest priorities in the workplace, and positive examples of this need to be shared and celebrated industry-wide if we want to attract diverse talent to work with us.”
Paula Cooper is Director of Consumer One (Toyota’s insight, innovation and customer experience division) and is keen on an open-minded approach to identifying and nurturing talent.
“There has been progress made in attitudes and mindsets,” she reckons. “The challenges today are exhilarating: we work in a fast-paced, technologically advanced and creative industry and we need to welcome a broader range of talent into our businesses.
“We have to show how vast and diverse our industry is and the huge number of opportunities there are to develop a successful career. It’s not just about cars! We need to reflect the needs of the working population and ensure we can attract the best of people from the broadest of profiles. Having different skills, perspectives and approaches is good for business. It’s not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
Her message to females thinking of joining the car business?
“You’ll love it,” is Paula’s promise.
There’s a similar (“absolutely go for it”) message from Nicola Bates, CEO at Autovia, the company that publishes Auto Express and other leading car-related titles.
“The industry is changing fast and offers an increasingly diverse range of roles and specialisms, so there really is an opportunity for everyone,” Nicola insists.
“The automotive sector by its very nature doesn’t help in attracting women. It’s not appealing to work in a male-dominated environment, so it’s not a surprise that only 20 per cent of the workforce are women. If we are under-represented in most roles, including in leadership positions, there is naturally less opportunity for development and growth to more senior positions.
“The sort of changes she believes the industry needs to make?
“Improvements will come through being more diverse and less male-dominated. We need to be working with schools, colleges and universities to make automotive an attractive industry for women. Having greater representation of females on the board, and ensuring that there are equal development opportunities to retain the female talent that we want to attract.”
Over at the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), its CEO Sue Robinson admits that a number of negative perceptions remain, despite huge improvements in recent years.
“Businesses have been looking at increasing workplace flexibility, ensuring equal opportunities for all their workforce, and providing support and an open communication channel to raise any concerns that may be affecting a colleague. If you are making an impact, you should progress – regardless of gender.
“Franchised dealers have made huge progress to ensure that opportunities are available equally across the board, says Sue.”
And what does she believe women can expect after they’ve made the decision to work in and around the vibrant automotive business?
“As with everything there will be challenges, but if you work with passion and determination, the opportunities will offset any obstacles you may face,” she concludes.
Journalist and television presenter Sue Baker blazed a trail for women in motoring. For decades she wrote for major national and local newspapers and magazines and was the original frontwoman for the BBC’s long-running, world-famous car programme…long before one of her female successors – Vicki Butler-Henderson – arrived on the scene.
“In a 50-year career as a motoring journalist, I worked for 23 years in Fleet Street and 11 years at the BBC as a Top Gear presenter, as well as writing columns for publications ranging from Auto Express to Good Housekeeping,” says Sue.
“Being something of a trail-blazer in automotive journalism meant coping with a few issues, such as older male colleagues who were sometimes put out by a young female invading ‘their’ territory. But as a good friend once told me, you can only be patronised with your permission, so never give it. Don’t be thin-skinned, either: a quiet self-belief shows what you’re made of.
“Back when I started there was a stark absence of senior women in the industry, or indeed at any level, but being a lone female in the media pack gave me an advantage. I stood out amongst all the suits, a handy aid in securing interviews with top-level people
“Happily there are now more women motoring journalists, but we’re still grossly under-represented when half the driver population is female.”
To read more about the thoughts of – and valuable advice from – Rebecca Adamson, Anna Gallagher, Mandy Dean, Paula Cooper, Nicola Bates, Sue Robinson and Sue Baker, visit: https://www.autoexpress.co.uk/news/357498/insight-women-automotive-industry-2022