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In spite of the massive strides made in workplace equality, the automotive industry is still a traditionally male-dominated field. Women in the industry face sexist and misogynistic behavior, often because their male counterparts believe they don’t or shouldn’t know anything about cars due to their gender.
However, in spite, or perhaps because, of this stigma, more women have begun to pursue careers in the automotive industry. Why are more women joining the industry?
Stereotypes and Stigma
If you’ve ever seen a woman working behind the counter in an auto parts store, then you’ve probably heard the following at least once:
“Is there a guy here?”
No matter how knowledgeable the person behind the counter, a lot of people look for men rather than women behind the counter because they automatically assume guys know more about cars. You can be ASE certified and be able to strip down an engine and rebuild it from the ground up, but if you’re female, there will always be somebody looking for a guy instead.
Women in STEM Fields
The number of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) is growing every year. While women make up more than 50% of the individuals receiving STEM degrees each year, the majority of those degrees are in scientific fields. Only 18-20% of the engineering degrees awarded each year are earned by women, and 27% of the manufacturing jobs like those in the automotive industry are held by women.
These numbers are growing each year. There is an increased focus on bringing women, and especially young girls, into the STEM fields. By introducing children to STEM at a young age, it’s easy to foster a life-long love of science and other related industries. There are programs available to get kids interested in STEM from kindergarten on up.
Women in the Automotive Industry
The numbers for women in the automotive industry are still lower than they should be, in spite of the fact that women tend to make more than 80% of the decisions when it comes to purchasing cars for their families.
The number of women in the automotive industry and related fields has dropped in recent years, with the number of female mechanics dropping by 3%. The number of women working in parts and sales has also dropped. Many of the women who left the automotive industry to work in other fields cited discrimination and feeling and being treated like an outsider.
In spite of all the discrimination that they may face in the industry, there have been women behind the scenes shaping and guiding it for more than 100 years. An actress named Florence Lawrence, for example, created the basic design for turn signals and brake lights to increase automotive safety back in the early 1900s when the idea of a car was very new. Her mother, Charlotte Bridgwood, invented and patented the design for the windshield wiper that we used today.
Women have been movers and shakers in the automotive industry from the very beginning, even if they’ve had to do it from behind the scenes. We would be reaching our hand out in the rain and pulling our windshield wipers manually without an innovation from a female automotive engineer.
Changes are coming to the automotive industry, but until people can get over the stigma that women know nothing about cars, it will take women working behind the scenes in engineering and similar fields to really change the automotive industry. With so many new and exciting things happening in the automotive field, from autonomous cars to fully electric vehicles, we’ll need fresh new minds to help steer us around the curves.