The glass ceiling that prevents women from excelling in many sectors is being chipped away one industry at a time. Yet, in any arena involving science, technology or engineering, the barriers still seem insurmountable.
The automotive industry, in particular, remains dominated by boys and their toys. It was fitting, then, that an awards ceremony last week highlighted just how many women excelled in the industry. The Motoring Women of the Year (M-WOTY) Awards saw more than 50 women honoured for their role.
From sales and aftersales to motorsport and leadership, the awards highlighted the crucial role played by women, often behind the scenes and invisible to the public.
“Women have been underrepresented in the industry for years, but that is slowly changing,” says the event organiser, Desh Pillay Bechan, host of the Talk the Torque motoring show. She founded the awards five years ago in partnership with Mfc, a division of Nedbank and Avo Auto.
“Women bring a unique perspective to the automotive industry, making it more diverse, innovative, and profitable. However, there is still a long way to go. Women are frequently disregarded in the technological aspect of the business.
“This bias is particularly evident in the after-sales department, where the task of lifting heavy machinery is often assigned to men. It is unfortunate that women are often confined to administrative roles, as if they are unable to excel in other areas.”
The reasons behind this gender gap are multifaceted, she says.
“Historically, the automotive industry has been associated with stereotypical notions of masculinity, perpetuating the idea that it is a male domain. This perception has discouraged many women from considering careers in this field, leading to a lack of female participation.”
It was startling, then, to see more than 5000 entries into the awards. This number does not only represent a growing presence of women in the industry, but also promise for the future.
“The lack of visible female role models and mentors within the industry further exacerbates the problem,” says Bechan “Without representation and guidance, aspiring women may feel discouraged and face difficulty envisioning themselves succeeding in the automotive sector.
“In order to drive change in the automotive industry and encourage more women to join, it is essential to address and break down the stereotypes and biases that currently exist.”
The category holding the most dramatic potential of destroying stereotypes, motorsport, was won by rally race car driver Paige Lindenberg, daughter of legendary motor racer Peter Lindenberg. However, she was followed closely by rally driver Andrea Raaths Duarte, motorcycle racers Landi Sinden and Hanri Oberholzer, and racing driver Clare Vale.
The awards raise another important issue, says Bechan: “The awards raise awareness of the challenges that women face in the automotive industry and encourage companies to do more to support women in the workplace.”
A fascinating initiative, of a kind that is rarely seen in such awards, is that the finalists joined forces to raise funds for RADA, an acronym for rape, alcohol, drug and abuse. RADA’s MiPad Project aims at enabling young girls to complete their education by providing them with sanitary pads, thereby reducing the number of school days they miss.
The message could not have been lost on the 19 dealer principals, 21 motoring groups, and 27 original equipment makers in attendance.
Many of these included award winners in various categories, like Jaguar Land Rover among the Top Achievers, Kia, Cherry and Renault in a Key Contributors category, Ford and Volvo in aftersales, BMW and Toyota for Excellence, and VW, Hyundai and Nissan for Performance.
Those are some of the biggest names in the motoring world, and not a bad place to begin removing the many glass ceilings of technology.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee