From high-flying executives to junior technicians, meet the people who are making inroads at all levels of the automotive industry

Lesley Upham, chair of Skillauto, is also director of commercial development at Thatcham, the motor industry research and repair centre, which works with the insurance industry to try to reduce the cost of motoring insurance claims while maintaining safety standards. She has been with the organisation for 14 years.

What does your job at Thatcham involve?

I promote our products and services both in the UK and internationally, as well as making sure that we maintain our independence and the trust that people put in that. We operate very much on a global business stage, so I'm heavily involved with Euro NCAP [the new car assessment programme]. I also make sure that we hit our revenue targets, which is hugely important.

Sounds like an influential job. How did you get it?

I actually started in a telesales role. It fitted in with my family needs at the time, but it was also an organisation that interested me. I realised that Thatcham had a lot to offer in terms of products and services, but they were under-selling themselves. So, I moved more into selling the work of the centre, creating the influence that we needed to enable us to do our research. I was the sales and marketing manager for about seven years, and then became director of communications. I got my current job about a year ago.

You have progressed a long way...

I think it's an industry in which – if you're prepared to put in the work and the effort – there are no barriers to what you can do. People recognise that you are willing and able and, as a result, will find the opportunities for you.

Has being a woman affected your career at all?

I think that being a woman in a man's world has helped me tremendously, especially in communications. If you want to get your message out, being the only woman round a meeting table of 20, or a conference floor of 100, makes you stand out. I've always been able to do what I wanted – and I would always urge other women to do exactly the same.

Do you believe in the principle of positive discrimination to give women opportunities at work?

I always try to think about who's the right person for the job. It would be great to see more women in the motor industry, but they have to be there on merit, not just because they're women. I think there could be more if some of the very able women out there realised what fantastic opportunities there are for them already.

Do men and women have different styles at work?

I think they probably do. It's inevitable, as everyone has different styles at work. We all have to make sure that we get the job done – it's just about the different ways of getting there.

Will the credit crunch reduce the opportunities available?

If we are going into a recession then the motor industry needs the best, and they will recruit and train to get the best. Plus, recessions don't last forever.

Why would you recommend a career in motoring?

It's a doorway to a lot of different industries. It's not just about repairing cars – if you want to do that there are no barriers to you, you'll get wonderful support – but you can be involved in HR, marketing and PR. The motor industry is quite unusual nowadays in that you can move your career throughout it – there are opportunities to change, and that's important. Young people don't stay the same for the whole of their lives and – with the right opportunities to move on – they don't have to.

Interview by Emma Bartley