With International Women’s Day coming up this Thursday, March 8th, it’s a good time to take a step back and to evaluate where the automotive industry stands regarding women in the workforce. At a time when women are inching closer to fifty-fifty representation in most fields, it is significant to note that women comprise only a fourth of the auto industry, with the bulk of that number being in sales positions, and smaller numbers in manufacturing and maintenance. Fewer climb the ranks to leadership positions. This International Women’s Day we need to ask why women are not flourishing in the car retail and service industry and how we can promote their inclusion.
Traditionally, cars have been considered a male-dominated area of interest and work. When asked to picture individuals involved at different levels of auto service, from mechanic to CEO, most immediately conjure up rugged male images. However, the truth is, women have been involved in all areas of car development and care for a long time. Women are responsible for various features found in modern cars: it was Florence Lawrence, a turn of the century actress, who developed a system that later evolved into brake lights and turn signals. Another woman, Mary Anderson invented windshield wipers.
Today, women continue to show themselves capable when it comes to auto design. Most are not aware that the Nissan 350Z, the Ford Probe, the Renault Scenic, the Volvo YCC, and the BMW Z4 were all designed by either a woman, a female team or a female-led team. Even the Queen of England had a career in the industry, serving as an army mechanic and truck driver during the Second World War. And with Mary Barra recently becoming Chief Executive Officer of General Motors, it is clear that there is little women can’t do in the automotive field.
Yet the numbers show that women aren’t entering car retail and service in large numbers as they are other fields and that those who are in the industry are not easily advancing. This is concerning because women are valuable assets to the automotive workforce. In retail, women have shown themselves to be excellent communicators and negotiators, and in design, they often present a fresh, distinctive perspective. With roughly half of all drivers being women, having a women’s viewpoint in your workforce is a definite benefit.
So how can those within the industry promote female inclusion in their workforce? For one, recruitment can actively target women, letting them know that their presence is welcome. To do this, businesses should speak with existing female employees to find out what is working and not working for them, so that they can better improve the workplace to attract and retain women. Additionally, women who are already in the field should be encouraged to act as role models for newcomers in the industry, and individuals in managerial positions should facilitate these mentoring relationships. Women’s auto groups, such as Women in Automotive, can provide further information for businesses and employees on how to better advocate for and support women in the automotive industry.
Finally, one of the roadblocks many women in the auto industry report is that they feel as though male coworkers consider them to be outsiders who do not belong in the field. Companies can combat this by creating educational programs that highlight the achievements of women who have worked and contributed to the automotive industry. And there is no better time to do this than on March 8th, International Women’s Day.