Does a woman have to be better than a man in the motor industry?

Does a woman have to be better than a man in the motor industry?

Catherine Treanor is the Business Development Manager for Electude an automotive e-learning company that specialises in simulation-based modules.

Catherine started her career in the motor industry as a motor vehicle apprentice and then worked for a car dealership. She therefore has the 360° vision to see the potential and the reality of a motor industry career for young women with an interest in science and engineering in particular.

Catherine received the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) Highly Commended ’2013 Outstanding Achievers Award’ for Technical Student in the Light Vehicle category.

We wanted to hear her thoughts about the motor industry and to pass on some encouragement to other talented young women following in Catherine’s footsteps.

Please set the scene for us re women taking a motor vehicle apprenticeship

Women choosing an engineering career in the UK motor industry are a rare breed. I have completed my motor vehicle apprenticeship, worked in a VW car dealership and now work with motor vehicle colleges across the UK so I know this from experience.

When I ask college tutors if they have any girls on their motor industry course they usually reply ‘Yes, we have a couple’ feeling proud that they’ve managed to attract them, knowing that only 9% of apprentice candidates for careers in the motor industry are female.

And then the tutors will almost always add ‘The girls perform better, work harder and are more conscientious in their work application than the boys on this course.’

Why do young women seem to perform better than young men?

To do well in a mostly masculine environment, like workshops in garages, accident repairers and car dealerships, a lone female HAS to be better than her male peers to survive and succeed.

Like me, they have to rise above the challenge of coping with an all male classroom and all male teachers. There are very few female role models and they can expect to be constantly questioned and singled out for attention.

This is no place for a female who cannot stand up for and defend herself because, if she is of the competitive kind, she will find herself competing for the best jobs alongside the 91% of males who feel so much more at home than she does.

“Your challenges, if you let them, can become your greatest allies. Mountains can crush or raise you, depending on which side of the mountain you choose to stand on.”

Challenges versus Opportunities?

A young girl sees these challenges and can either be overwhelmed by them or use them as tools to excel. There is no in between…

I am constantly asked if I find it difficult being female in the motor industry. Of course I find it difficult, immensely so on occasion, but I have never had any expectations about how I SHOULD be treated or if this should be any different for me compared to my male colleagues. I control how I am treated after all…

Instead I was always willing to put in extra hours to help my classmates and also volunteered to promote apprenticeships to other females like me. I believe that this ‘over and above the course of duty’ attitude has not only earned me the respect I now have but has also changed the perspectives of my colleagues towards me.

This sort of attitude is needed and, I hope, will pave the way for the next generation of young women engineers, who will find it easier to cope in more female friendly working environments and with more understanding employers. It’s a chicken and egg situation of course (the employer has to want a gender diverse workforce too) but I really do believe that year after year the percentage of young females will want to and rise to take on this career challenge to benefit the motor industry.

Perhaps you will be as interested to watch this YouTube clip as I was. This female engineer has a very interesting point about being raised at a disadvantage when encouraged to play with toys that don’t help develop spatial skills.

What is your message to female students and course tutors?

To students I say…

… see that (masculine) mountain as a challenge and use it to raise yourself higher. You will stand out to begin with and as tempting as it might be to blend in, don’t! Much better to use that attention to illustrate your capability and work achievement; in this way to promote yourself positively with a view to the future.

To school and career teachers as well as course tutors I’d suggest…

… it isn’t your fault that there are so few females enjoying motor industry careers but maybe you can do more in future by showing young girls, at open evenings perhaps, the multiple and probably unexpected careers that can come out of a motor vehicle qualification.

More young women need to realise that the motor industry can provide them with inspiring and truly rewarding careers, from selling cars in showrooms, to working in highly specialist accident repairer paintshops, to diagnosing mechanical problems/solutions and ending up with delighted customers as a result of your personal skills, workmanship and care.

Of course no woman should have to deal with early stage career difficulties or gender discrimination when she chooses a career in engineering but I accepted all that when I chose this career and I am willing to stay the (enjoyable) course I chose, to make a difference for others.

But I also accept that change does not happen overnight and cannot be EXPECTED.

As the numbers of young women grow I am confident that the combined female force of our patience, tolerance and determination within the UK motor industry will encourage more and more young women to choose a worthwhile and ultimately highly rewarding career in engineering.

Written by Catherine Treanor

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