The gender gap across industries has become quite a trending topic in the past few years. Women have been underrepresented in most industries: from finance and business operations to construction and engineering. It is no surprise that the automotive industry places among the top tier as well.
Where’re the girls at?
Historically, the automotive world has been male-dominated. However you look at it, men have been leading the market as they engineer, design, race, and repair the cars that we all drive every day.
Where are the women then? In the past, women were at home. But today, they are everywhere men used to be.
Since 2012, women hold more driver’s licenses than men. They drive more than 50% of automakers’ sales in the country. They are the influencers behind 80% of the auto purchases.
In 2018, only 16 women (8%) were executives in the top 20 motor vehicles and parts companies in the Fortune Global 500. Yet, we must say this is an improvement from the year before and the one before that.
So, here’s to the ladies that are engineering, designing, racing, and repairing the automotive future. The ones who build a strong female presence in the world of cars.
Mary Barra – General Motors, CEO
Her life is a true example of a person born with a purpose. She has spent most of her life being part of General Motors and is now writing history. According to Forbes, Mary Barra “has made decisions other GM leaders never dared” and has so far accomplished more than what others couldn’t do in more than 30 years.
In 2014, she became the first female CEO of a leading global automaker. And she has been running the company quite successfully ever since. Only three years later Fortune Magazine announced her as one of the most powerful women in business.
The appointment of Mary Barra marked a new beginning for GM in terms of gender equality as well. One, where executive women leaders are the norm. Since 2014, the company has welcomed a few more women at the top level.
In 2017, Alicia Boler Davis was appointed to the position of the executive vice president, Global Manufacturing. And in 2018, Dhivya Suryadevara took the position of Chief Financial Officer(CFO). Way to go, GM!
Michelle Christensen – Former Lead Design Manager at Honda
Often, when you think of women and design, you think of the interior. Home decor most of all. Yet, this lady proves that women can do much more than the insides. Moreover, she does the exterior of a supercar!
Michelle Christensen is the first woman to lead a supercar design team. While working as a Lead Design Manager at Honda, she has led the design work on models like the Acura ZDX and RDX, Acura RL and RLX, and Honda NSX second generation.
Until now, high-end, high-performance supercars have only been built and marketed toward wealthy, adrenaline-seeking men. The look and feel of the NSX were not only managed by a woman — it’s made for a woman to enjoy driving, too. And this model exists thanks to this woman who took night school classes in car design. Persistence and strong will have always been female superpowers.
When Michelle talks about the beginning of her love for cars, she remembers watching her dad rebuild a 1967 hemi GTX. Where’s the man who can say that about his childhood?
Danica Patrick – professional racing driver
We can’t stop talking about Danica’s strong presence. One of the most widely known female racers. She joined Nascar in 2010 after being an IndyCar racer for some years. She is known for her victory in the 2008 Indy Japan 300 race – the only win by a woman in an IndyCar Series race. This made her the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing.
Apart from her notorious wins, she is known for her brave choices. In order to pursue her dream of racing, she made a radical decision early in her life. She decided to quit high school. A choice that made her even more disciplined in following her passion.
Even though she retired from racing in 2017, Danica continues to inspire many young girls to go after their wishes, to try out new things and to be proud of being who they are as women.
Linda Hasenfratz – Linamar, CEO
Let’s start with the fact that she is Canadian. That should already say a lot about how tough she is. Besides that, however, she is the CEO of Linamar Corporation – a global manufacturing company of highly engineered products powering vehicles and motion as a whole.
She succeeded her father as the CEO of Linamar, but she has worked in the field for quite sometime before that. Linda started as a machine operator in 1990 and 12 years later, she became the CEO.
Since then she has achieved double-digit growth for the company year after year. In 2014, Linda was named EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year and became the first woman ever to hold the title.
In addition to providing spectacular business results, she has made community involvement a big part of the corporate culture at Linamar. She has been preaching on the need for green technologies and the role of women in science and business. Vision, financial success, AND social responsibility – she’s got all the criteria for a great leader covered. A tough Canadian, as we already said.
Once upon a time…
Now thanks to the changing media landscape, we hear more about female achievements in the auto world. Yet, in the past, news traveled slowly. And even worse – there weren’t that many female leaders in the car world to talk about.
Despite the generally low representation of females in the industry in the past, few have stood out and made an impact even before gender equality became such a hot topic. These women have done a lot to challenge the status quo and make a change in the automotive world. The strong female figures today would not have existed if these women had not stood up for their passion in the auto world.
The one that started the engine
It will be disrespectful to all women in the industry if we omit this lady from our list – Bertha Benz. Her visionary forward-thinking got her to believe in her husband’s dream, and she invested all her money in his company. While she was supporting Carl in his efforts to get his prototype going, she was also taking care of 5 kids. Calmly and patiently.
And one day she took the Benz prototype on a long-trip which eventually proved its worth. In 1988, she took two of her sons and, without her husband’s knowledge, put the motor car in motion, and drove to Pforzheim. A brave attempt that gathered media attention and got the company going. Which we can admit, makes her quite a successful marketer as well.
The ones who built the cars
When we talk about actually building cars, let’s take a moment to appreciate these women. We should thank each of them for our comfort behind the wheels today.
Mary Anderson and Charlotte Bridgwood, the mothers of the windshield wipers. In 1903, Mary Anderson invented the manual wiper. Fourteen years later Ms. Bridgwood took the design and upgraded it to its automated version which we know today. Before then people had to drive with their window shields unprotected from rain. Imagine that in the middle of rainy Florida.
And imagine you have no brake and turn signals on such a day. Thanks to Florence Lawrence, this is not an issue today. Even though she is famous for her movie career, Florence’s biggest passion was automobiles. Since she was one of the few women who could afford to own car at that time, she started exploring her car and its safety features. In 1914, she invented the first mechanical turn signal and mechanical brake signal.
None of these ladies, however, protected their inventions, so very soon after, some of the big automobile brands started producing their inventions without giving them credit. Little did they know that this would not stop people from giving them praise even a century later.
The one that pressed the gas pedal
Talking about racing – we should not forget Janet Gutrie. Now 81, she is a retired professional race car driver and the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. Before her career in racing, she earned a degree in physics and her license as an aerospace engineer. Guthrie’s notable achievements got her included in the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006.
In 2015, Danica Patrick bested Janet Guthrie’s record for the most top-ten finishes by a woman in the Sprint Cup Series. A great reminder that even across generations, women in the auto world share the same drive – to become better at their passion. No matter what men would say.
In old times, female achievements were quite accidental. Not because women lacked knowledge and skills, or because they didn’t deserve credit but simply because they were women. As a result of their very often silent efforts, we can now see more respect for females in the industry as a whole.
There are more opportunities for women, more appreciation for their knowledge and more appointments of female executives. Let this serve us as a reminder that all we experience today is a consequence of a lady’s achievement in the past. And a trampoline for some other young woman somewhere in the future.
So let’s celebrate the women who are our role models in the auto world – across time and space.