Powered by women – Women in the motor industry

For years the motor industry has been a male dominated industry, but did you know that women have had a hand in moulding this industry from the start?


Although the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, regarded as the world’s first vehicle with an internal combustion engine, was designed by Karl Benz, it was actually his wife Bertha that financed the project. She was also the first person to drive it on a 121-mile round trip. You could say that was the world’s very first car road test.

In 1914, Florence Lawrence made history when she invented brake lights and the turn indicator. However, Florence failed to patent the turn indicator with Oscar J.Simler going on to do it himself. Another key safety feature we couldn’t be without is the windshield wiper, patented by Mary Anderson in 1903.

It’s not just in design where women were changing history, take Denise McCluggage, in 1959 she was the first female driver to win the feature sports-car event at Thompson Raceway driving a Porsche RS. She’s also the only automotive journalist inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

More Women at the Top

Although we’ve certainly seen changes in the past few years, to many, women are still filling the periphery roles with just a few managing to break through to the top. But we need more female leaders.

It was recently announced that Aston Martin’s Laura Schwab, who is their President of Americas, will open Autocar Great British Women in the Car Industry – Rising Stars event in the summer, held in association with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Schwab was appointed Aston Martin’s first ever female President of Americas in 2015, having joined the firm from Jaguar Land Rover, where she worked for more than 15 years, holding senior roles in marketing, communications and sales operations.

She commented: “The auto industry is full of creativity and innovation, now more than ever. As one of its few female leaders, I’d always eyed the corner office, but never had a woman to look upon for inspiration.”

The thinking behind the event, which began in 2016, was to put a positive focus on the opportunities that can be found within the industry, not only for men, but for women too.

Schwab hopes that her story will encourage more women to continue their climb to the top of what she describes as a “wonderful industry, where a diverse approach to leadership will be a welcome change to the status quo.”

Other notable women in the automotive industry include Barb Samardzich, who after many years working at Ford is now on the Board of Directors at Adient, a company that is a global leader in automotive seating.

Also, it is good to see that in January this year, Louise O’Sullivan was appointed as Network Operations Director for Renault UK after working as head of their Dacia business and Mandy Dean became Ford of Britain’s new Marketing Director.

Technical Trades Explored at VW

For women to truly be part of the industry means not just achievement at the top, but many more being part of the hands-on, day-to-day work that keeps the wheels going.

That’s why the initiative by Volkswagen to invite over a thousand female students from grades 6 to 10 to ten different locations throughout Germany for Girls’ Day 2019 was very welcome. The girls gained an insight into technical trades and found out from other young women and training staff why such trades are varied, exciting and future-proof.

“Diversity is a main priority at Volkswagen,” said Martin Rosik, Head of Human Resources at the company. “Our goal is to have mixed teams of employees with very different backgrounds, experience and skills.”

He was pleased that Girls’ Day gave female students the opportunity to find out about the many technical trades that are open to them. Volkswagen has said it is steadily working on increasing the share of women in technical trades.

Being Recognised in Service

Women offer an invaluable service to the industry that needs to be recognised. For example, Olivia Dunn from the Kia Stoneacre Wallasey branch has recently won her way to represent the UK at the KIA Service Advisors Skills Cup World Finals, in Korea later this April.

But, until the time that your fully qualified technician in your local garage is just as likely to be a woman as a man, there is still a long way for the industry to go. It’s a long journey, but one that is under way.

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