According to a report commissioned by the European Commission men account for 70% of those employed in the automotive sector in the EU, while in the UK in particular the figure is closer to 74%. Here we flip the statistics somewhat and take a look at the experience of some of the women who are helping to drive change within the industry.
Asked to name professions which are considered to be male dominated and most of us could easily generate a sizeable list - the military, engineering, construction - even medicine - all come to mind. Equally, throughout time these perceptions have been challenged largely in response to a specific need or a shifting dynamic. During WW1 and WW2 women took on challenging yet crucial roles, making a massive contribution to the war effort - working in munitions factories, driving fire engines, building tanks and ships to name just a few jobs.
Almost 100 years later and the baton has been neatly passed from Great-Grandmothers to Grandaughters. In 2015 we can see certainly see changes – more women than ever are working in male dominated professions – most of us will have visited a female GP, or even been flown by a female pilot. While it is easy to look over our shoulder at how far we have come, how do we measure the road ahead?
According to research by graduate-jobs.com female graduates are increasingly seeking careers in male dominated sectors. Indeed analysis of the career preferences of nearly 600,000 graduate job-seekers over the last decade shows that more female graduates are looking to work in job sectors such as Engineering; Utilities (eg Energy and Telecoms); and Manufacturing and Production.
The UK Government however believes more can still be done to level the playing field and has recently launched a campaign called #notjustforboys. Spearheading the campaign is Employment Minister Esther McVey who commented: “I want to see more women make the most of the future growth and job opportunities in what once may have been considered non-traditional roles – so young children won't only know about Bob the Builder, but Becky the Builder, his workmate too"
Against this backdrop what are the experiences of women working within the automotive industry – surely one of the most male dominated of them all? Below we shine a light on three women who work within the Lookers Group. In their own words, they tell us what it's really like.
Sarah Williams, Head of HR
Sarah originally wanted to study Art, however the art world's loss is Lookers gain, as she eventually opted for a degree and then a post-graduate qualification in Business which helped launch her successful career in HR. Living with her partner Darren and their two small children, Antonia aged 6 and Max aged 9 months, Sarah has been with Lookers since 2013.
Sarah heads up the busy HR team - made up of Regional Business Partners and a team of proactive administrators. Her focus is “on engagement, reward and recognition…..I want us to stand out in our industry as the good guys."
In the past Sarah has certainly helped other businesses improve their credentials, achieving 'Top 100 Best Companies to Work for' and 'Great Place to Work' for 3 years running while Group HR Manager at Swansway Garages.
While in situ at Lookers, Sarah has brought her considerable flair and has been instrumental in supporting initiatives such as 'NICER' as well as delivering great customer service to managers and employees through her talented team. “I'm mostly proud of introducing game changing initiatives to make us stand out in our industry."
Sarah is a keen advocate of strong reward and recognition programmes working to “implement initiatives that help make Lookers a great place to work". Recently she was at the helm to implement a wider range of employee benefits including staff retail discounts at of Argos, Asda and other well-known high street brands, as well as a introducing a range of insurance products for employees.
On the topic of women within the automotive industry she is very honest: “I wish there was more equality in our industry, however as a women in this industry I feel I have become sharper so that I can be taken seriously. I don't feel intimidated by the male dominance and I can certainly hold my own!"
Chelsea Hill, Trainee Mechanic
Chelsea is 21, single and lives with her Mum who enjoys the fact that her daughter is a trainee mechanic. A self-confessed tomboy her hobbies include airsofting (a cross between paintballing and being in the TA!) and playing Call of Duty on the PS3 (shooting zombies is a particular favourite). In addition to her love of cars (more of that later) she also enjoys riding her motorbike, designing and having tattoos done, and drawing Japanese anime cartoons.
Being a mechanic is a tough job – it's very physical and with advances in the technology used to develop cars, is more technically demanding than ever. This could easily put prospective apprentices off. Yet Chelsea is a case study in determination. “I knew I wanted to be a mechanic from an early age. I love cars and have had 6 over the past few years. My first was a Volkswagen Polo and I now have a Mk4 Golf which I have customised by adding alloys and a sound system. I worked with my uncle on weekends at his garage. After leaving school I initially worked for a marketing company and although I was promoted it just wasn't for me. Three years ago I contacted over 60 garages to try and find an apprenticeship. Colbornes was the only business to reply and after interview offered me the job."
Chelsea is currently studying at the National Learning Centre in Milton Keynes – the only girl on her course – and is expected to complete her studies and become a fully qualified mechanic by November this year. When asked what she enjoys most about the job Chelsea enthusiastically replies, “the challenge of learning on the job, being stretched to learn new things – especially electrics – and having a laugh with the other mechanics".
Chelsea does admit however that working in an industry which is male dominated requires extra resources: “It has challenges. You need to be able to stand up for yourself and work even harder to prove that you are just as good as the other male mechanics."
Liz Williams, Fleet Customer Services Director
Liz is married to Simon and lives in Milton Keynes. They both love their holidays and have recently returned from a coastal tour of Norway where amongst other 'arctic activities' such as snowmobiling, they were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in all their glory. Liz joined Lookers in July 2014.
Customer service has underpinned the whole of Liz's career - from High Street retail through to corporate sales, account management and logistics.
Her most recent position was to manage the dealer network for Arval UK and through this role she became familiar with the Lookers Group.
Being a "self-confessed perfectionist, driven by attention to detail" Liz has undergone intense professional training over the years, “to fine tune both personal and professional skills". This has included studying sales techniques, project management, team building and business operations.
As a result Liz is energetic and motivated when it comes to delivering the demanding service levels required within the Fleet sector.
“We have a plan to significantly grow our Fleet business at Lookers. Good communication and account management is vital and business is often won or lost on reliability, consistency and quality of service. I am working with our National Fleet Sales team, Fleet Dealers and outsourced logistics agents to ensure we deliver the best quality service for our Fleet customers"
Displaying her head for business, Liz is focussed on significantly growing Lookers' presence within the Fleet market “with the right tools and measurements to track our progress and our strong leadership, we are motivated as a team and know we will be successful."
Liz is pragmatic and insightful when it comes to working within the automotive industry: “although it may be male dominated that can be said of many other industries too, so there is no escaping it. I feel that good business is about good team work and women bring a good balance to a male dominated environment including some softer people skills, strength, tenacity and an alternative emotional intelligence that can otherwise be missing."
While the number of women currently within the automotive industry has a long way to go to match the number of men, in-roads are being made by many talented and determined women such as Chelsea, Liz and Sarah.
The increase in female-run garages, female car executives (including Ford Europe's Barb Samardizich) and female car dealers hints at a future where women can truly be considered equal in every sense. This will not happen in isolation but will develop through a combination of resolute women, inclusive recruitment policies, and a societal shift that does not make a woman feel out of place while doing a job normally considered to be exclusively for men.
In 2015 the statistics tell us that, on average, 26% of jobs within the automotive industry are held by women. Barb Samardizich sums it up best “ I'd say there's still a way for us to go before people stop talking about the gender of the person - as long as you've got to talk about it, we're probably not there yet. Ultimately the industry is best served by the best people in whatever roles. So capability needs to be the best judge."