Celebrating women in the automotive industry

30 August 2018

Celebrating women in the automotive industry

Following on from International Women’s Day, we want to shine a light on women and their role in the automotive industry. Though still underrepresented compared to men, a number of women have shown that it’s possible to stand out and improve the automotive trade as a whole – hopefully paving the way for more women to break into the industry. Over the last 100 years since VACC was founded the industry has certainly become more welcoming for women, something which the Chamber is determined will continue!

Where we came from

Back in 1919, Alice Anderson was Australia’s first ever female garage proprietor, opening her all-female business in Kew, Victoria. More than just a repair shop, back then garages were petrol stations, car cleaners, chauffeurs, and storage all in one.

Entirely unheard of at the time, the business was pretty successful – even when facing gossip and negative responses from some sectors of the industry and from more conservative locals. However, it didn’t spark a sudden rush of women into the industry.

Where we’re at now

Just a few years ago, figures pointed to fewer than 15 per cent of the 130,000-odd people employed in the automotive industry being women, with only 1.4 per cent of auto trades workers counted in the 2016 Census being female. That doesn’t mean that things won’t change, however.

Bucking the trend

One auto-shop that’s making waves is Braeside Automotive – owned and operated by Cathy Wood and Jillian Edwards since the beginning of 2017. Cathy and Jillian purchased Braeside Automotive because they felt like women had been underrepresented in the industry for long enough, and felt like they could put their marketing skills to good use in a female-run, female-focused automotive business. Braeside gives honest, plain accounts of a vehicle’s problems, does regular car maintenance (without the jargon), and runs workshops once a month to clue up its clients on how their cars run and what they need to do regularly to keep their vehicles in good condition. Plus, they proudly display their VACC membership sign out the front to demonstrate the level of support they can provide.

Looking at larger corporations, companies like Audi Australia are leading the charge to increase the number of women in the industry, with a workforce that’s 42 per cent female, and a clear pay equity policy across roles. Managing Director of MB Vans for Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Diane Tarr believes that the biggest challenge for women is what is needed as normal for the industry. “Losing the stigma that this is ‘a man’s industry’ or a ‘male-dominated industry’, it comes down to a belief that women can be successful no matter what the industry is.”

Globally, women are in positions of power across the industry, with Mary Barra, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of General Motors Company, named one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business only a couple of years ago, and Susan Elkington, President of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, the plant’s first female director.

It’s clear that women are more than able to handle the roles traditionally managed by men and are thriving in the roles.

Opening automotive to women

The networking group, Women in Automotive (WinA), aims to celebrate and provide a voice to women in the industry. First launched by VACC in 2000, WinA hopes to make the industry a more welcoming place for women, given its historical male dominance. The group hosts various events throughout Victoria to give its members the opportunity to learn, upskill and network. All women who work in the industry, from mechanics to marketers to business owners, are welcome to sign up with WinA.

With more women entering the industry than in the past, we can only hope that it encourages others to do the same. Many in the industry, VACC included, are working towards creating an environment where women feel there are no gender-based barriers to entry – the industry should be welcoming for all. Though numbers indicate this isn’t the case just yet, we hope that we can change this as we head into the future.

Business owners and managers can help encourage greater equality in the automotive industry by making sure work environments are inclusive and welcome diversity, providing mentors for women in the industry to ensure that they’re getting a fair deal and the knowledge to push through the ranks, and establishing clear goals at the highest level to bring more women into the industry.  

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