Ladies, start your engines: Women in the motor industry

So you thought that the motor industry was for men only? You'd be wrong – Emma Bartley will bring you up to speed
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The Independent Online

Think girls can't make it in the motor industry? Well, it's not the case. Not only are there plenty of opportunities available to women in this exciting and diverse business, but female values and skill sets are also especially appreciated in what has traditionally been a man's world. So strap yourself in as we debunk a few myths...

Myth 1: Women can't drive

The time for jokes about women drivers – or at least the time when they were funny – has passed. One recent industry report even suggested that women could soon overtake men as the main drivers of cars. And if we do overtake them, we'll do it in a nice, safe fashion: the fact that women have fewer accidents – and make smaller insurance claims when they do – has been well- publicised by women-only insurance companies such as Sheilas' Wheels.

Myth 2: Careers in motoring are for men

If women are buying and driving cars, why shouldn't they design, manufacture and sell them? The good news is that, according to the industry's professional body, the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), around 94,000 women in the UK do just that. The bad news is that this number represents only 16 per cent of the total number of motor industry employees in the country. The IMI acknowledges that this needs to be rectified and is promoting Women & Work, a £10m Government scheme that aims to encourage more women to enter the motor industry. Under this initiative, companies that employ or recruit women will receive money to spend on training and developing them. Some 600 women are benefiting at the moment, and their companies will also prosper with a more skilled workforce.

Myth 3: If you tried to change a tyre, you might break a nail

"Don't think of something as a man's job, a heavy job or a dirty job," says Lesley Upham, chair of Skillauto, which trains automotive technicians to compete at the WorldSkills competition. "None of those things are true today. This industry is at the cutting edge of technology and the skills that we're looking for are well attuned to modern technology. We find that female apprentices can be particularly skilled at panel painting and crash repair," she says. Michelle Hall of Automotive HR, the recruiters, admits that women are much more likely to be employed in administrative roles, as receptionists, showroom hosts or service advisers, than as mechanics or design engineers. But she is also keen to point out that when she does have female technicians working for her, she can trust that "they are going to be grafters".

Myth 4: The best way for a woman to sell a car is to drape herself across it

Hall says that when she puts female candidates forward for sales roles, her clients are delighted. "They're not allowed to specifically ask me for women, but they love it when I send women for interviews. Women are not quite so pushy." General Motors UK agrees: "We've done training with retailers to tell them it's preferable to have women in the showroom. We've explained the benefits and we're investigating a potential recruitment drive for women as well," says a spokesman. And research from the University of Warwick's Business School says that teams supervised by a female sales manager are more effective than those supervised by men.

Myth 5: To succeed in a male-dominated career, a woman needs to be manly

At this point, there is nothing to do but hand over to Donna Fraher, founder of Fluffy Cabs. "My business exists to sell car accessories for women that take into account style and fashion – that means more than just being pink," she says. "We also run a blog and forum so that women can talk about what interests them about cars. Usually reviews that you read are all about things like how quickly you can get from nought to 60mph – we're much more worried about how nippy and economical it is." Fraher didn't pull any punches when she named her company. "It was intentional – it almost repulses guys," she says. "You get patronising comments from some of them, but that just shows their prejudice. The ones who realise that we're almost 50 per cent of the market now react very positively."

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