Today is International Women’s Day and we’re celebrating all of the ladies who love to drive and work with cars.
There are numerous amazing women working in the automotive industry across all disciplines. You’ll find these fabulous females in all corners of the world making their mark in motorsport, engineering, mechanics, design, public relations, corporate management and motoring journalism.
We sat down for a chat with three standout Aussies, who are doing big things in their chosen field.
Molly Taylor is Australia’s rockstar rally driver. Last year she became the first female driver to win the Australian Rally Championship. 2016 marked Subaru‘s return to domestic rallying and Taylor signed on as a driver with the Subaru do Motorsport team.
She’s about to try and defend her title in the 2017 season, kicking of on March 17 with the Eureka Rally in Ballarat, Victoria.
Though preparations are well and truly underway, the busy sportswoman made time to share what it’s like to be an ‘accidental’ role model for young women.
Tell us about where your love for rally came from.
I grew up in a motorsport family. Both my parents competed in rally, so you could say it was inevitable that I started competing myself as well. My sister grew up in the same household and she’s a barrister and can’t change a tyre – she’ll kick me for saying that!
When I got my licence, my father was running a rally school at the time and he wanted my sister and I to learn how to drive competently off-road, somewhere secure and safe, so that when we got on the road we were looking at the traffic – not trying to work out where second gear is. I instantly fell in love with rally.
Was there anything that went wrong in the early stages of your training?
A lot went wrong! I guess that’s part of learning in any sport, but in motorsport the consequences can be much more serious, especially when you’re trying to learn how to drive on a constantly changing surface in a forest.
A lot of work goes into making sure the cars are safe, but there have certainly been times when the cars haven’t looked that great at the end. That’s part of the learning process, I guess, and we try not to do it – it’s an expensive but very fast way to learn.
As a female in a male-dominated sport, were there any challenges in the early days?
I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been incredibly well supported by 99 per cent of the rally community. Guys want more girls in the sport as well, so they’re just as supportive. I think there is definitely, in some cases, a bit of a misconception and a bit of an old-school mentality.
When I first went over to Europe, I did make sure I was putting in 110 per cent effort and putting in a little bit more effort than other young drivers would, just to prove I was there for the right reasons. Maybe there’s a little bit of gender in that, but I guess at the end of the day it’s something that I was never hung up on. You have to be thick skinned, but the males do as well. It’s a tough sport for everyone.
We’re seeing a lot more women driving, co-driving and also in engineering and mechanics. It’s fantastic to see and what I’ve really been astounded by in the last year of competing in the Australian Championship, is how many young girls come up to say hi. They drag their parents along to the rally and want to talk about rally.
Because I was so focused on competing, I didn’t realise that for little girls, seeing another woman do it has a huge impact on what they think is possible. Not that they’re told they can’t, but if they don’t see it, they don’t think it could be an avenue that’s open to them.
You’ve become a role model.
It’s fantastic to see and, from my perspective, I’m never out there to be the fastest woman or to get more attention because I’m a woman. Whether you’re male or female – if you don’t love the sport and put in the hours required to achieve the best, it doesn’t matter. If the stage time’s not good, it’s not good.
There’s a level of respect when you’re out there competing and putting in the same amount of effort as everyone else. From there, you’re on a level playing field and out there to prove yourself as a driver, not a female driver.
Inadvertently, the role model aspect that it can provide to young women is something I never thought about until I started speaking with all of these young girls. In any industry even if you’re a female in a female dominated industry, if you don’t love what you do and put all your effort in then you wont succeed. You still have to have the capability at the end of the day.
When it comes to getting her hands dirty, Jenifer Woods has no qualms. Woods made the jump from graphic design to mechanic when she started her apprenticeship in New Zealand at the age of 25.
She has been in Australia for the past six years and, just a few months ago, became the first female in Australia to become qualified as a Mazda master technician.
Woods is also a qualified auto-electrician and has a love for restoring old cars.
What is it that you love about the industry?
It’s always evolving and changing and there are constantly new developments in the industry. I particularly like electrical work, I like working where the problems are and overall, the challenge of the diagnostics.
Did you face any challenges in the early days coming into a male-dominated industry?
Not really, to be honest. I think it depends on what you put out there. If you don’t allow there to be any problems, I don’t think there is. Being strong and setting your boundaries straight away, I’ve never really had any problems, so it’s what you put across.
Do you think that females face challenges in male dominated industries in today’s society, or are we past that?
Obviously people are going to have their opinions on it. And that’s something you either pay attention to or you don’t. I’ve always chosen not to.
There would be some people with the opinion that some females shouldn’t be in some industries, or they’re not strong enough to do it or whatever the case. It’s something you either listen to or you don’t.
Well said. It’s a messy job at times, how do you deal with going from the workshop to a night out?
A lot of nail scrubbing going on, and pumice and things like that. It’s not too hard to clean up. A bit of black nail polish!
How would you encourage more women to become mechanics?
I think there are some women who are on the fence, and I say just go and do it. Give it a go and get stuck into it. Cars are changing all the time so you can’t really get bored with it.
I think if you really want to do something, you’re going to do it anyway – if you’re determined enough. I think there are a lot more females in the industry now and it’s heading in the right direction, it’s not as frowned upon as it used to be.
It takes a special type of creativity, the ability to predict future trends, and an eye for colour, texture and fashion to be a successful designer. Emily Lai has a rare set of skills that have helped her become the colour and materials design manager for Ford Asia Pacific.
Melbourne-based Lai has a background in architecture, as well as industrial and interior design and was one of the designers of the Ford Escort that was unveiled in Beijing in 2014.
What do you love about the industry?
The automotive industry gives you the opportunity to help shape the future, it’s complex, exciting and highly varied. One day you can be researching and forecasting future themes and colours, the next developing a value vehicle that doesn’t feel low-cost for a specific or global market or a luxury Sedan using absolute quality materials and manufacturing processes.
A bonus for Colour & Materials Design is to be involved from the very beginning, right through to the finished delivered product, enabling you to make sure the end product maintains the initial design quality.
We also get great resources, work with expert cross functional teams leading technology, materials and manufacturing that help us deliver our visions.
What drew you to this role in the first place?
I have always had an interest in cars, and Ford’s heritage as a design and engineering innovator for the masses is what initially drew me in. While vehicles are very complex, there’s challenges and opportunities.
Cars symbolise freedom, excitement, and utility. They enable people to do more, visit new places and do it in comfort.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
I led a highly creative Colour & Materials Design team to deliver Escort in China, a high-volume, low-cost vehicle that feels more premium than its price tag.
What have been your biggest challenges faced along the way, and in today’s society too?
Today in developed and developing nations, people expect more for less. The automotive industry is at the forefront of delivering this value, so we are constantly challenged to deliver great products in less time. Also, as technology becomes increasingly important (safety, connectivity, fuel economy) the budgets will have to be shared.
Personal challenges in the organisation, for all of us, is to earn respect.
Automotive industry employees and companies are passionate about transport, a family, they have a language and a mission. Coming from an architectural background, I had to prove my capability to be taken seriously and grow into the organisation.
To all the women and the many men who support them personally and professionally to achieve greatness in the automotive industry – Happy International Women’s Day!
Listen to the full interview with Molly Taylor, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.