What women add
If opportunities for women in the auto industry are to increase, the top women say families and schools need to make young women aware of the industry as a career and encourage them to study technical subjects. Also, the industry needs to change its macho image.
Listen to what the leading women say about strengths women bring to the car business.
-- Lena Olving, a senior vice president at Volvo: Women add a different dimension to business. More needs to be done to recognize womens needs when it comes to car design. Research shows that if you can satisfy a womans requirements for a car you will exceed a mans expectations.
-- Odile Desforges, head of purchasing at Renault: In the complex world, women can bring simplicity.
-- Barbara Richmond, group finance director of Inchcape, a UK-based dealer group: The women Ive encountered in senior positions are extremely hard working and tend to focus on their jobs rather than on organizational politics. They bring more clarity to what they do.
Societys expectation that women play a greater role than men in bringing up children makes the auto industry a difficult place for women, says industry observer Nina Raftry. Raftry, 32, spent eight years in the auto industry, most recently as a virtual build engineer with Bentley. Now she is an automotive recruiter with Jonathan Lee Recruitment in Stourbridge, England.
She says the industry needs flexibility for mothers because its always the mothers who pick up children from day care, or after school, or stay home with them when they are ill.
Sophie Desormiere, group product marketing director at Valeo, also calls for flexibility.
I dont think that working 60 hours a week at the office is the definition of performance. If we want to see more women at the highest levels, we have to move toward new organizational systems, she says.
We dont have to make ourselves more masculine to become top executives. But today the system is still oriented toward the male career path, which can be linear.
When recruiter Raftry worked in automotive jobs, she wasnt always comfortable.
Men would change their behavior and speech when I came into the room, she says. You want people to behave normally. I felt like I was always the outsider coming in. It was quite difficult, especially in the early days.
Anja Kleyboldt, a manufacturing manager leading a team of 1,000 building the Opel Vectra and Signum, recalls when she was an apprentice at a mechanics shop there were not even toilets for women.
But times are changing.
Many of the leading women say getting girls interested in engineering will attract women to the auto industry.
Rita Forst, executive director of product engineering at GM Powertrain Europe, says: It is still uncommon to have a female engineer in a mans world. It will take years before we see an equal number, if at all.
Interest needs to be created early. It starts at home.
Few women study engineering, says Forst. In very traditional countries like Germany and Austria there is almost no change in attitude from when I started. But where I am now, Turin, 13 percent of the engineers are female. This is great.
So attitudes are adjusting. Roles are reversing. Misperceptions are being corrected.
Says Beatrice Foucher, vice president of product planning at Renault: This is a really interesting industry, so dont hesitate. You dont have to jump at the first offer that comes from LOreal. Dont be afraid of the automotive industry. Its not the old steel industry of the 1950s.
A lot has changed in the last few decades thanks to trailblazers such as Bentleys Gaskell, who is proud of her scars from the slowly disappearing glass ceiling. If I have made it easier for other women to move to the top, Gaskell said, it was worth it.