I have nothing but praise for first movers who spot an opportunity, take advantage of it quickly and follow through afterwards. The First Movers I’d particularly like to recognise here are Car Dealer Magazine, Autocar and the UK Automotive 30% Club.
The opportunity I’m talking about is the shortage of recognised female talent across the car, automotive and general motoring-related industries.
This opportunity is of equal interest to female friendly businesses that are already going that extra mile for women customers and those that recognise that being (seen as) a female friendly employer will likely improve staff retention and recruitment appeal.
When it comes to taking full advantage of either opportunity, that depends on the business strategy employed to follow this through.
The problem arises when first movers test the water here then get cold feet. This often happens to do with gender because some businesses think equality means treating men and women the same – which would be fair enough if men and women were the same. Which we aren’t of course as female perceptions of the motor industry (as customers and potential staff) confirm.
So, to address these areas, businesses need to decide their strategic recruitment plan and some are clearly doing this better than and ahead of others.
Car Dealer Magazine
Initially Car Dealer Magazine planned to get women in the industry together and see what’d happen – by organising an event at Car Dealer Expo 2015 that introduced different women and different careers to female attendees. Their first speakers included a rally driver, garage owner, Dealer Principal and finance specialist.
After these individual presentations a Q and A session revealed some dissatisfaction in female ranks. Why were scantily clad promotional girls on display at such events? Why were women a sideshow industry issue (the room was very small and away from the main stage) and why wasn’t this sort of presentation aimed at women outside the industry, not in it?
So I was interested to see if the Car Dealer Expo 2016 addressed these issues and by and large it did. Yes, the room was bigger, yes the MC was an impressive Miriam Gonzales Durantez (aka Mrs Nick Clegg) and yes Gaia Innovation MD Julia Muir brought local schoolgirls along to find out about automotive careers and yes there were many excellent issues raised again.
This raises the interesting question of impartiality and independence in this area. Most of us run businesses not charities so we have to tread carefully and be seen to payback when accepting event sponsors that just might put the organiser at odds with key members of their audience.
Sadly I wasn’t able to attend the 2017 event due to an early diary clash so I missed the speed networking sessions with 100 local female students, sponsored by VW. But if you were there, by all means bring me up to date with your memories and thoughts about the day.
Autocar’s Great British Women in the Car Industry
Autocar’s Top 100 Great British Women Awards took a different tack, setting out to attract female engineers into car manufacturing roles by promoting a wide range of female careers and recognising high achievers in the car industry.
Their first event in 2016 was held at the SMMT offices where Linda Jackson (still the only UK/European female CEO of a car manufacturer) headed a fabulous band of female talent covering a wide range of job areas and functions.
Their Year Two event was considerably more impressive, held in plush conference facilities at Twickenham Stadium and free of charge to invitees, including lunch. Well attended, as you’d expect, local MP Sir Vince Cable delivered the opening address and Paul Geddes, CEO of Direct Line Insurance, delivered the Keynote speech.
There were two main panel debates tackling similar issues. The morning group was more attuned to the status quo I felt, but the afternoon panel was keen to see change or were already doing things differently and sharing best practice in many areas.
There was a definite focus on car manufacturers and franchised dealer groups at this event and little of interest for the independent sector.
Throughout the day I became more and more convinced that
1. Nobody knows the precise gender metrics in the automotive industry. For example how many employees are female in boardroom/senior management/middle management/car sales/aftersales/parts/engineering/design & IT roles in car manufacturers, top dealership groups, retail and other aftermarket roles. This means it’s going to be difficult to measure change until we do, or to calculate areas where the commercial need is greatest eg do we need more female engineers or more female car sales staff and so on…
2. There’s a weary school of female activists like me who want to shake up the male driven automotive industry by demanding a serious commitment (and action plan) towards diversity – one that takes effect NOW, not in 10+ years time.
3. By and large, long term female employees in the motor industry seem to think more like their male peers than other women drivers who don’t work in the motor industry.
4. Female returners to the industry, especially ones in HR functions, better understand what ‘typical mums and daughters’ think about the automotive industry and are more attuned to bridging this perception gap to recruit/retail the right female talent.
5. Some businesses are clearly working harder than others to be (seen as) female friendly from the point of view of their female customers, staff and future recruits. And this seems to be working.
6. Regardless of gender, most automotive staff seem to love cars and engines.
7. Where a potential female recruit is clearly more in tune with people and customer service than cars or has exceptional professional credentials but little love for engines or technology should she feel out of place? Perhaps she sees the industry as more about cars than people?
The UK Automotive 30% Club
So could the new UK Automotive 30% Club be an industry catalyst for change here? As mentioned at the Autocar 2016 event this started out with leading dealership groups stating an aim to have 30% of senior roles in their businesses held by women by 2030.
This is supported by the likes of the IMI, big dealer groups Vertu Motors, Lookers, Group 1 Automotive, TrustFord, Vantage Motor Group and manufacturers Toyota, Mazda, Kia and Bentley.
But is a 30% target in 13 years ambitious enough I wonder, when an aspirational target should surely be closer to 50:50? Perhaps this bar is too low to impress.
Now that such a good start has been made on so many different fronts, I wonder who will take this gender baton further to include all industry sectors I wonder?
Certainly it’d be good to see Car Dealer Magazine adding to this by taking an active part identifying and promoting women in the motor industry within their Magazine. Maybe there’s an earning opportunity here for them to promote management job vacancies to women, within genuinely female friendly businesses?
Perhaps Autocar can make business sense of continuing a high profile Great British Women In The Car Industry annual awards ceremony funded by a wider range of sponsors and ticket sales? They might also develop this by looking at new ways to sell cars to influential women or identify car dealers which are the more female friendly ones, to drive more females to their publication.
And if The UK Automotive 30% Club would aim for a higher and more immediate target (than 30% of senior roles going to women by 2030) I feel sure that the first movers within their ranks could be encouraged to show the rest how to pick up their skirts and run to catch them up.
Sadly none of these organisations are the impartial and independent UK industry voice that’s surely needed to lead the gender equality business agenda forward for all. To do this would take a body tasked to
+ determine precisely where we are in terms of female staff numbers across the industry, by function and level
+ establish 50% as the equality target in boardrooms and senior management across the industry
+ obtain strategic buy in at boardroom level
+ manage a joined up strategic plan to move things forward
+ obtain annual statistics to measure/monitor gender levels
+ publish anonymised best practice benchmark statistics during early stages, to encourage progress.
Clearly an associated start has been made by the Government whereby UK companies with 250 or more employees, to include the big car dealer groups, are required to publish a gender pay gap report before April 2018. This should put the spotlight on associated gender employment areas.
Finally I don’t think we can get away with just considering female recruitment options for much longer. It’s time for action. The diversity job needs tackling now and the female business case is compelling for women as customers, existing employees and future recruits.
I’d welcome any constructive thoughts about who can afford to do this via my email firstname.lastname@example.org or via my @FOXYSteph Twitter account.
#QueenOf Motoring For Women, The Royal Connection, 2017
We first met Jane when she joined the new FOXY Lady Approved Tyre Register and then organised two popular Ladies evenings locally with the proceeds going to the CancerCare charity.
We soon realised that when we didn’t speak to Jane, we spoke to two friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic females in her absence. So many females in any tyre business is very rare indeed.
Fast forward a year and when I was at the Tyresafe Awards last summer my table companion, Alan Baldwin from Micheldever Tyres, told me about Jane and what a remarkable business lady he knew her to be.
A little later on, and in contact with Ashleigh Warren of GiTi Tire UK, Jane was mentioned again…
This time I could not ignore these coincidences any longer.
So I decided to find out Jane’s business story for myself and on the strength of this was delighted to present her with our inaugural Valentine’s Day ‘Woman Of The Year’ Award in Morecambe in front of her husband Graham.
Left to right, the photo is of GiTi Tire UK’s Marketing Manager Ashleigh Warren, Jane’s daughter Emma with grand-daughter Felicity, Steph Savill (FOXY), Jane Bailey, daughter Sophie and Micheldever Tyres’ Area Sales Manager Keith O’Brien.
This is Jane Bailey’s Story (in her own words)
In the 1970’s women were even less likely to be mechanics or tyre fitters than they are today. There was little or no training available for us. So when I left school at 16 I went to work for British Gas for 11 years but my love of cars remained.
In the meantime I had met my future husband Graham who was a fitter with a national tyre company and we got married when I was just 18.
Our first daughter Emma was followed by three miscarriages so we were thrilled when our second daughter Sophie was born eight years later.
How did Westgate Tyres come about?
When the right premises came up for us in 1997 Graham and I (in the photo) jumped at the chance to open our own tyre business which we called Westgate Tyres. This was a scary thing to do because Emma was 10 years old and Sophie just 20 months.
We risked everything to set up the garage but neither of us wanted to look back in later life and regret not having been brave enough to give it a go.
At the beginning I did the book-keeping, planned the tyre promotions and ran the reception area. Sophie spent her early days in a playpen in the waiting room – it was a case of pulling together to keep a roof over our heads.
After working all day at the garage, Graham would look after the girls at night whilst I’d do a stint at the local Asda on the tills until midnight. These were long, hard and tiring days for us both with little outside support but we always knew our hard work would pay off in the end.
As the business grew, so did the administration and promotions so I took the brave step of leaving Asda when Westgate Tyres became our only source of income.
These were precarious financial times when holidays went on hold and we worked 363 days a year bar Christmas and New Year Days. My role as wife, mother and business partner became harder and harder but our efforts were at last starting to pay off, allowing us to employ staff and add new customer services.
When did the rest of the family get involved?
Our daughter Emma (now 29) had started working for us as a Saturday receptionist at the age of 14. She shares our love of cars, of course, owning a Barbie Pink Puma at the age of 17! She now works full time in the business and has two daughters herself, aged 5 years and 6 months.
Unsurprisingly our eldest grand-daughter also loves cars, is often seen in overalls and the pair of them starred in our award-winning Tyre Safety advertising campaign.
Emma’s husband has his own accident repair centre so it’s cars, cars, cars for the whole family.
Our younger daughter, Sophie, is 20, equally as car mad and runs a pimped up Suzuki Swift Sport. She is helping us take the business forward with a fresh eye.
The business is now a GT Radial Performance Centre and we feel we’re fitting trust with every tyre alongside such a fantastic guarantee. Sophie visited the Ascari race track in Spain last year and test drove a selection of vehicles fitted with GT Radial Tyres – they all performed really impressively in both wet and dry conditions.
Sophie’s partner has his own car detailing company so our family businesses all complement each other.
How did you promote your business as different from others?
I’m a strong believer in targeted advertising and have spent years working hard to build awareness of our business.
The tyre industry is very male dominated and doesn’t always have the best of images so my daughters and I work tirelessly to make our business as genuinely female friendly as possible.
So much so that we decided to join the FOXY Lady Approved Tyre Register and work with their motoring club for women to promote our regular Ladies Nights. Our aim is to empower local women with the knowledge and confidence to do their own car maintenance and tyre safety checks.
As a result, Westgate Tyres sees a high percentage of female customers and I honestly believe they visit us because they know women work here. They tell us they’re reassured that they’re understood and always treated with the utmost respect and honesty.
When did your personal health become an issue?
After a couple of years of feeling so ill and so tired that I could put my head on my desk and instantly fall asleep, I was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013.
This is when my world fell apart – I was critically ill and admitted to hospital a week later for major surgery.
My family now had the business to run by themselves whilst worrying about a seriously ill mum and wife. I don’t know how they all held it together but they did – putting on their brave faces, shedding tears in private and going through the motions of keeping the business running as normally as possible in the circumstances.
The Cancercare charity has been a true lifeline for me. It has provided emotional support which you need, especially when you’re self employed. When you’re recovering from major surgery of any kind you need rest, an absence of stress and time for your body to heal. Colon cancer adds additional challenges – you need to get used to a completely new diet and just getting through every day has been a real battle for me.
Trying to recover and keep the business running was extremely difficult but cancer hadn’t beaten me. Within a couple of weeks, I was doing the book-keeping from my bed and visiting the business in a wheelchair. After three years, I’m delighted to report that Mrs B (as the staff all call me) is fighting strong.
During all this I’ve been amazed by how many friends and customers came to talk to me about health concerns before being diagnosed with this cancer themselves. So I now try to raise early awareness of colon cancer whenever I can, including organising a fund-raising event every year.
The fear of having to give up everything we had worked so hard for has certainly pushed me on and, had I worked for someone else, I might have lost my job or not had the unshakeable resolve to keep going, regardless.
What does the future look like today?
After all this, my love of cars is stronger than ever. I particularly love classic cars because they are so stylish, they look very different and they are often a driving challenge. I try to visit as many classic car rallies as I can with either a Morris 1000 or Sunbeam Alpine.
My everyday car is a sporty open-top 150 Mini whilst Graham enjoys his Subaru, Porsche and Nissan Navara!
I’m also very proud of our daughters as ambassadors of our business and now it’s their turn to take things forward and allow me time to focus on myself, for a change.
I am delighted to see such a bright future ahead of them as they start to make their female mark on today’s tyre industry.
I often wonder if my Dad could see how those early days spent encouraging me to help him under a car bonnet would shape the rest of my life! And then that of my daughters and grandchildren, given time!
Jane Bailey, Westgate Tyres
FOXY Lady Drivers Club’s first ‘Woman Of The Year’
Valentine’s Day, 2017
We are delighted to see that Janet Wilkinson of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has been awarded an MBE for services to the Motor Industry and Charity in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year.
Janet joined the SMMT in 1974 and has spent most of her career in communications and public relations for the sector.
She has been responsible for the media centres at some of the industry’s most high-profile events including the British International Motor Show, the Commercial Vehicle Show and SMMT Test Days. Such events promote the corporate reputation of the UK industry and showcase UK companies’ products and technology to thousands of media and the public at home and abroad.
Janet is also a Trustee of the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Benevolent Fund and Chair of the charity Women on the Move Against Cancer (WOMAC) raising funds and awareness for a variety of cancer charities.
She has also mentored dozens of young people who have gone on to enjoy successful careers in the industry.
Speaking on her award, Janet said
“I am thrilled to receive such an award. I never thought the work I did would merit recognition but to have been honoured in this way is a tribute to all the support and encouragement I have received from colleagues in the industry. The automotive sector is a great industry with fantastic, committed people and a hugely professional and passionate automotive media.”
We’d add that Janet is an excellent role model for young women following in her wake and who might wonder how far their marketing talents might take them in the motor industry. If they are good enough, they will be rewarded, appreciated and acknowledged. For sure the automotive industry will be the richer for more Janets in it.
Coventry University graduate, Nicole Agba, has won the prestigious Autocar-Courland Next Generation Award for her innovative biometric steering wheel concept. NB: She is the only female in the photo.
Nicole’s ‘Steer Right’ system employs a Smart Fabrics Interactive Textile on the steering wheel of the car, using sensors that monitor the driver’s heart and respiration rates, fatigue, anger or nervousness.
If put into production, the steering wheel would even detect alcohol in the driver’s system, immobilising the vehicle if they are over the limit.
Announced as winner at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) dinner in November 2014, Nicole will now embark on a five-month work experience tour of Award sponsors Jaguar Land Rover, McLaren Automotive, Peugeot, Skoda and Toyota. She also wins a cash prize of £7,500.
Nicole, 23, from Rainham in Kent, said:
“I’m ecstatic to have won! It’s such a unique experience; I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to be a part of it. Not only am I thrilled to be the first female recipient of the Award, I hope my success inspires others who might ever have been told they cannot do something, to look at my example and not be afraid to chase their dreams. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.”
Agba, who graduated from Coventry University with a degree in Transport Design in May, was one of three finalists who made it to the SMMT dinner; the other two were fellow students Freddie Lee and Serge Kaldany, whose entries were an app which alerts drivers to the presence of cyclists in the blind spot and a gaming console-inspired control system.
Autocar editor-in-chief Steve Cropley, also the chairman of the judging panel, said:
“Once again we have been bowled over by the calibre of the entries received for this year’s competition, making Nicole an all the more deserved winner.
“The judging process has once again been fascinating and I’ve learnt that you can’t make assumptions about people. Sometimes you see an idea on paper and think you’ve got the person pegged but then they bring their idea to life and you realise you didn’t have them worked out at all.
“This award was set up with the hope of finding and nurturing bright new talent and it has now touched thousands of people. I’d like to think that, from next year, we can expand on what the Award does and open it up to more people still, but how we do that has not yet been decided.”
Courland International Chief Operating Officer, Adam Pumfrey, said:
“Despite operating predominantly at board level for the automotive industry, it has become clear to us for some time that we’ve struggled to attract younger candidates. We support this Award because its focus is on uncovering fresh young talent and highlights the fantastic range of careers open to those with a passion for automotive business.”
I’d like to add FOXY’s ongoing support for this Award because it is now reaching the right young females who will start to motivate others to consider the many wonderful career opportunities in the UK automotive industry.
An industry that needs many more Nicoles with a view to the future!
Congratulations Nicole – this is a remarkable and well deserved accolade made all the more sweet for me because you are the first female to win this highly competitive Award.
PS: Applications for the 2015 Autocar Courland Next Generation Award will open early next year. For more information, visit Autocar Next Generation Award.