The world is changing and a combination of increased open mindedness and market forces is working to create more and more opportunities for women. Is everything perfect and can we say that IT and automotive are completely gender balanced? No, and my recent experiences of attending and speaking at events tell me that my situation is still somewhat of an exception – not many women have enjoyed the kind of support and opportunities I have. But we are on the right track.
Here are 5 reasons why …
1. Talent shortage prompts transformative action
It’s well documented that the automotive industry – like many others – is suffering from a shortage of the right tech talent. As automotive companies pursue digital transformation and as the industry focuses ever more intently on software and digitalization, it is clear that talent needs are changing. The focus is no longer predominately on mechanical engineers – data scientists, business analysts, SAP experts, programmers … they’re all in high demand, and often departments within the same organization are competing for this same talent. For example, cloud and SAP expertise are as important to procurement and HR as they are to production and logistics.
The problem for the automotive industry is that it is not alone in feeling this need. Almost all industries are going through a similar transformation and require the same skills. This means that the automotive industry needs to step up and it needs to actively change its culture in order to appeal to potential candidates who might not traditionally consider it as a place to forge a career, i.e. women.
We definitely shouldn’t see this as a situation where more women are hired and promoted just because there is a shortage of talent – far from it. Instead, there is a shortage of top tech and multi-disciplined talent. It is this shortage that represents a fantastic opportunity for everyone who fits the bill – men and women – to take a strong first step into a career in automotive.
2. Diverse teams perform better
As the industry becomes more competitive, automotive organizations need to reflect on how they can maximize their performance. Technology can be a great enabler, but performance starts with your people, who they work with, and how they work together. Over the course of my career – which includes project and program management, capability building across geographic locations, and building and growing an entirely new business on behalf of Audi and Capgemini – I’ve observed that diverse teams perform better. What do I mean by “diverse” in this context? I mean people of different nationalities, ethnicities, professional backgrounds, cognitive profiles, age groups, and, yes, also a mix of genders.
And it’s not just my personal observation. There is a lot of research to back up this opinion.
“Gender-diverse and inclusive teams tend to outperform gender-homogeneous teams, often by as much as 50%.”Gartner, Diversity and inclusion build high-performance teams, 2019
How does diversity help drive performance? On a project or task level, it’s about bringing multiple perspectives to the table and harnessing the best of all worlds to find the right solution to a problem. The same can be true on an organizational and team level – being able to tap into a variety of perspectives, experiences, ways of thinking, and skill sets makes you collectively stronger. Based on my own personal experience, this kind of diversity also contributes to a healthier, more satisfying place to work, which undoubtedly makes a big difference to how people and the organization perform.
Organizations are waking up to this and, thankfully, there’s a greater emphasis on diversity – especially gender diversity – in the hiring and promotion practices of companies, which means many more opportunities for women. An added benefit of this is that diversity tends to breed diversity so, once you’re on the right track, progress can be fast.
3. Mobility megatrends are not all male-dominated
The automotive industry is going through the largest transformation in its history. Electrification, digitalization, the rise of the software-defined vehicle, and the race to deliver autonomous mobility … are just some of the imperatives driving transformation. In addition, there’s stronger competition (Nǐ hǎo China!) than ever before and a strong need for established OEMs to streamline and strengthen their businesses. And if all that weren’t enough, there’s the growing need to stabilize supply chains and meet sustainability targets.
This isn’t the automotive industry your father worked in, where the main emphasis was on mechanical engineering. Today, there are so many ways for talented individuals to contribute. We need scientists to develop future generations of EV batteries. We need AI experts and data scientists to help anticipate supply chain turbulence and take remedial action. We need UX and UI designers and software developers to design and deliver new functions and features to cars. We need environmentally conscious thinkers to design products and services with circularity and sustainability in mind. We need creative thinkers and partnership builders to devise new ways to build and extend relationships between customers and their cars. The list goes on.
The key message here is that today’s automotive industry requires a far broader range of skills, profiles, and perspectives than it did just 10 or 15 years ago. And, as you see from the examples above, these aren’t all domains that are traditionally dominated by men. There’s also an argument that, as products and services become more complex, it’s increasingly important to have an inter- or multi-disciplinary skill set. In my experience, this is an area where women tend to shine (anyone for the joke about men and multitasking?).
In short, as the automotive industry transforms, opportunities will abound for ambitious females looking to make their mark.
4. Post-pandemic appreciation for work-life balance
The pandemic caused us many difficulties and challenges. However, on reflection, many would agree that it brought about positive change in their approach to work. These days, most of us work from home for at least a few days a week. Many of us work from locations other than home or the office while travelling. It’s okay to say we can’t make a call or meeting because we have to pick up our kids. In many organizations, it’s acceptable to take a call while walking the dog. And, for most people, it’s fine to say you have a lot going on at home and could do with a little breathing space at work. These are all positive developments, many of which are a result of the constraints and difficulties we all experienced during the pandemic.
Acceptance of the need to balance our personal lives with work is definitely a good thing, but it hasn’t always been this way. Many mothers have held back from returning to work after kids or have not progressed as fast in companies due to their inability or unwillingness to ‘give’ as much of themselves at work as their male colleagues (try getting in early or staying late when you are the primary carer of young children). Now, as more of society appreciates the benefits of work-life balance and there’s more empathy in the workplace, many of the obstacles that might have kept women out of work – or from progressing – have been openly acknowledged as being challenges for both men and women. This is sparking discussion and progress toward greater equality, which is opening the door for many more women to resume or progress more quickly in their careers.
5. Role models and support networks
When I began my career in the world of automotive tech, there were precious few female role models that I could look up to, admire, and seek to follow. Yes, there were women who were successful in their professional careers, but leaders? Role models? I’m not so sure. Today, the situation is much better. No, there aren’t many female CEOs (yet) but many of the established European and North American OEM brands all have women on their senior management teams. Sure, they may still be outnumbered, but many of these women are active in championing the cause of women leaders. Most importantly, though, they demonstrate that women can reach the top in a male-dominated industry.
And while we don’t all have a direct line to the leaders at the top, we do now have solid community platforms in the form of the PANDA Women Leadership Network
and Women Automotive Network where we can meet and hear from women of all levels from all kinds of backgrounds and domains. At Capgemini, there is a Women in Engineering network and the Capgemini Invent Female Expert Network, as well as many other local or practice-based groups for women to join and contribute to.
Having attended and spoken at several events in the last year, I’ve been taken aback by how much I have gained in terms of inspiration and advice and also how much positive feedback I’ve heard about my own story. Whereas in the past, we may have felt neglected by the lack of support structure, today, I think we can consider ourselves blessed by the networks, communities, and channels we have access to.
So, what can you do?
It may seem like now is a perfect time to be a woman in automotive. It’s not. There’s still much work to be done but the situation is improving all the time and we can all play a role in helping it to improve faster. We can connect, we can contribute to existing networks or create our own local communities. We can share our stories, we can look around for those who need a helping hand, we can provide advice to one another, and – if we’re leaders – we can make sure we are active in creating and nurturing workplace cultures and communities that support women. There is literally something that every one of us can do to pave the way for female success in the world of automotive. And, as Madeleine Albright used to say “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Note: This blog post is based on the keynote presentation I gave at the Women Automotive Network Summit event in Stuttgart on 20 September 2023.