In the past, women in the automotive industry were often out of sight, out of mind. Not anymore. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are putting the spotlight on the fairer sex and exploring their growing presence in the automotive industry.
Leaving the Past in the Past
In the past, everything car-related was generally geared – pardon the pun – towards men. However, this has changed, gender designated roles and boundaries are being brought down. It is rare to be surprised by a working mom or a stay-at-home dad, although a stay-at-home parent might be surprising just for financial reasons!
Women in the Automotive Industry
The Automotive Industry is fast-paced and challenging, and for the most part it is dominated by men. However, there are a number of high-profile roles held by powerful women, determined to make their mark and change the game. When it was announced at the end of 2013 that Mary Barra would be the next CEO of General Motors, it was big news. Not only would she be the first female CEO of GM, she would also be the first female CEO of any major global automaker. Today, she is arguably one of the most powerful and influential women in the industry.
Fortune magazine named Barra among the ’50 Most Powerful Women in Business’ last year, and in 2014 she was included in the Time 100 and Forbes magazine’s ‘World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’. Barra worked up General Motors from the bottom. She has strived and earned everything she has accomplished. The industry needs more characters like hers.
While women like Barra have made major strides in the workplace over the past several years, the entire automotive industry appears to still be changing far more slowly than many other industries.
Women In The Workforce
As of 2013, barely one quarter of all jobs in the United States’ auto industry were held by women. If you don’t count office and clerical work, the percentage drops even lower. It’s rare even in the massive smash repair industry we have here in Australia, to come across a female panel beater. Additionally, women make up less than 20% of management roles.
These numbers are interesting when one understands that women buy more than half of all cars on our roads and have a significant influence on 85% of car-buying decisions. Even with this knowledge, only recently have marketing campaigns been geared towards women.
As I mentioned above, the automotive industry in dominated by men and some are not accpeting of any female authority. In an article, Mindy Homan, a dealership manager stated that: “I had an irate customer that called and would not believe me when I told him that I was the general manager of Holman Hyundai. He insisted I must be the secretary and finally hung up. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen very often anymore.” The times are changing.
Patrice Banks is an automotive technician and founder of Girls Auto Clinic, an auto care business, consultancy and workshop that caters to women. She is author of the GAC Glove Box Guide. She has paved the way for many other female engineers to break the glass ceiling an demonstrate that women are just as good mechanics as men.
Another instance of women breaking down barriers in the automotive industry was when theexterior design project leader for the Acura NSX was a woman named Michelle Christensen. A graduate of the prestigious Art Center College of Design, Christensen was the first woman to lead a design team for a production supercar. The dream job of most car loving kids, both girls and boys.
We are not so naive to believe that everything is going to wonderfully equal tomorrow. It’s no exaggeration to say women are markedly underrepresented in the motoring world. Changes are being made and attitudes are changing, but these are slow processes. The first major women’s movement was in the sixties. Women still are not offered basic human rights in some countries. Thankfully, influential people and those in power are lending their support to the feminism cause. So hopefully, in a future sooner than we can hope to achieve, all young girls and boys can grow up and be whoever they want to be, regardless of their gender.