Challenging Gender Stereotypes In The Automotive Industry

Vinod Aggarwal
08 Mar 2022
09:17 AM
4 Min Read

As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, a drive down memory lane reveals why the narrative on gender equity must remove misperceptions by publicising women’s key role in the automotive industry’s advancement.

Vinod Aggarwal

Imagine if businesses mandated that half their talent should be excluded from participation. Sounds preposterous, right? Yet patriarchal societies worldwide are doing precisely that by creating hurdles for the girl-child entering many spheres.

Can we envision healthcare without the substantial contributions of female doctors and nurses? The world would have been much poorer without the exploits of the legendary Florence Nightingale – the founder of modern nursing. Nevertheless, we blithely erect barriers via lower salaries and lesser skilled roles, disincentivising women in almost all industries. Unfortunately, automotive is no different.

Female Role Models

Such an approach is counterintuitive because empirical evidence indicates that women’s participation leads to more productive outcomes in multiple ways. Undeniably, women bring a completely diverse dimension to decision-making across varied segments.

The fact is automobiles are gender-neutral products that both men and women love driving and do so with equal felicity. In designing and manufacturing vehicles, too, males and females can together bring a more comprehensive perspective to create better products.

For example, few may be aware that automobiles have become our comfort zone on the roads thanks to American mechanical engineer Margaret Wilcox who was instrumental in inventing car heating in 1893. Besides making driving more pleasant, it promoted safe travel, keeping windows and car interiors fog-free in cold weather by maintaining the right temperature.

Or consider Mary Anderson – one of the first role models in automotive history who invented the windshield wiper in 1903. The invention came about after Mary noticed people had trouble driving in bad weather, constantly stopping and stepping out to wipe rain or snow. Mary’s invention made driving safer by providing a clear field of vision. While the list of women’s contributions in automotive is long, there’s no point in belabouring a point that has already been made.

Initiatives To Break Stereotypes

This brings one back to the topic at hand – challenging gender stereotypes to augment women’s roles and respect in the country’s automotive industry. Although the needle is moving in, increasing the percentage of women working in automotive companies, there is still some way to go before they are provided with equal opportunities across segments. Nonetheless, one must highlight and commend the efforts of multiple players presently underway.

In 2021, one car-maker rolled out its 50,000th flagship vehicle via its Vadodara plant’s all-women crew, celebrating the spirit of diversity with females steering the end-to-end production. Significantly, the automaker with British origins has 33% women in its workforce (an industry-leading number) in varied business functions.

In the case of an Indian entity, it opened its first automobile service workshop featuring an all-women team in Jaipur in 2019. Christened ‘Pink Collars’, this initiative seeks to advance the hiring of women in key productive roles in its workshops. Channel partners are also encouraged to tie up with ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes) to impart the latest industry knowledge through its specialised trainers and support other types of practical training to make the female students industry-ready. Recruitment drives are also held at the ITIs to identify and hire female talent.

Another notable initiative is from a premier tyre manufacturer, which ushered the concept of women-only managed outlets in India. Here, ownership, management and operations, even manual tasks such as wheel balancing and changing as well as operating numerous machinery for servicing vehicles, are all handled by women. All of the above are excellent examples of inclusivity and gender diversity in the workplace. Besides empowering them and providing financial stability, such initiatives inspire other women to shoulder similar roles while encouraging other companies to follow suit in advancing gender diversity.

Two major ride-hailing players also drive gender diversity, encouraging more women to get behind steering wheels to support their families. While ascertaining greater safety standards for women drivers along with sustainable earnings, it also facilitates the security of female passengers, especially during non-peak hours.

Acknowledging Enterprising Women

However, are these efforts enough in increasing the representation of women in the auto segment? Not completely. Studies suggest that women continue to be denied advancement opportunities and respect in a male-dominated domain where both female employees and customers are perceived to be less knowledgeable about automobiles.

Typically, men display a patronising attitude towards women. This derives from the industry’s macho image, driven partially by Formula One and other races where adrenaline runs high, and the difference between life and death is only separated by a whisker. But it makes little sense to judge women’s proficiency in automotive by their lack of participation in racing events, particularly when women have made tremendous contributions in making vehicles more modern, safer and comfortable.

That women are not lacking in daring and enterprise behind the wheel was amply illustrated by Bertha Benz – wife of German Karl Friedrich Benz, who patented the first automobile in 1886 in Mannheim. Despite the invention, Karl’s car did not receive as euphoric a response as expected. It was through Bertha’s pioneering spirit, however, that the vehicle made its mark in due course.

Like other inventions, the horseless carriage was distrusted by people. But Bertha turned the tide by getting behind the wheel and driving 106 km from Mannheim to Pforzheim. In an era sans road signs and a few paved roads only, Bertha courageously drove the car on uneven dirt roads. What’s more, Bertha took her young sons along on the dangerous cross-country journey in August 1888. More than Karl Benz, his wife should be complimented for the vehicle’s ultimate success.

Another enterprising woman in automotive history was Clärenore Stinnes – the first to circumnavigate the globe in a car in June 1929 at age 26, who believed women could do whatever men did. The journey was dangerous as, often, there were no roads, maps, refuelling stations or workshops. Over 25 months, Clärenore travelled across 23 countries, driving 46,758 km.

Females deserve to be accorded their due place in the industry by highlighting the endeavours of such women in the global automotive market, including India. Indubitably, women are second to none in automotive and other industries in myriad ways.

About the Author: Vinod Aggarwal is President at Automotive Skills Development Council. Views expressed are personal. 

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