Martin Forbes' blog

Why automotive has some catching up to do when it comes to diversity

It was International Women’s Day on Friday 8th March, and I marked the day by attending Cox Automotive’s ‘Women with Drive’ event in Nottingham.

As always, it was an inspirational experience, with around 200 people attending, which is an incredible achievement… when it launched in 2016 we had 30 attendees!

If you work in automotive then I’d encourage you to attend one, men are very welcome to attend and it’s great to see more attending each time.

The event got me thinking about my own personal take on diversity, and why automotive has some catching up to do.

Looking back, many of my biggest influencers have been female. From my mother, the eldest of ten children growing up on a farm in Ireland, my favourite all time teacher, Mrs Ross, who I continuously debated economics and politics with, much to the annoyance of my class mates, sorry!

It’s worth noting that many of our debates centred around Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the country at that time and the longest reigning Prime Minister of the 20th Century, if you put your political opinions to one side, it is hard not to admire her for what she achieved in the hugely male dominated world of politics.

I have also been very fortunate to have had many inspiring and hugely talented female bosses over my career, especially during my tenure at PricewaterhouseCoopers. It won’t come as a surprise to anybody reading this that, during my years of education and in my professional career, women have helped to shape my thinking, inspire me, and push me to improve… I’m sure that’s the case for everyone.

So, why is the automotive industry still so male dominated?

Before joining the motor trade, I worked for the world’s largest professional services company before making a leap into the world of digital media. Although both industries had their challenges with the diversity mix, they were certainly more advanced with gender equality compared to my initial experiences with the motor trade.

This was brought home when I attended my first industry awards dinner in 2015. Believe me, and I’m very aware of the irony that I’m describing myself, when I say that I looked across a sea of middle-aged men with thinning hair profiles. That said, I have noticed during recent award dinners that they are becoming slightly less male dominated but there’s a long way to go.

The facts speak for themselves. Only 20% of people in our industry are women! Firstly, that’s a mind-blowing statistic, and secondly, it’s simply not good enough.

Partly, I think it’s down to perceptions. Stereotypically, men are more ‘into cars’ than women, and there’s a long history of car advertising being targeted at men. Although that’s changed in recent years it’s created a view of the industry that’s going to take a while to change.

What can we do about it?

People have approached the issue of diversity in different ways.

Some are in favour of quotas, personally that’s not something I support. I feel it undermines the people that are appointed. As automotive leaders become a more diverse group, I want it to be clear that everyone has been appointed on their own merits, and to rule out any slight niggle that they may have been appointed to fulfil a quota.

What we need to do is challenge ourselves to stop hiring people in our own image and take a chance on someone who’ll question the ideas and ways of working that need to change as the world changes.

"You can't be what you can't see"

Beryl Carney receives Woman of the Year Award

This year, I was privileged to be on the judging panel for the UK’s first Barbara Cox Woman of the Year Award.

Having read through the nominations, I can tell you that there are plenty of female role models in our industry. We need to shine a light on these people so everyone can see what’s possible. That’s why the main aims of Women with Drive are to support career development and showcase success.

I was delighted to present the award to Beryl Carney from JCT600. She’s a fantastic leader that’s delivered great business results by uniting her team behind a clear strategy.

If you’re in automotive, one of the best things you can do is share stories like Beryl’s, and all the women on the Barbara Cox shortlist, far and wide to show how our industry has changed.

Automotive is a great space to work in, and we’d all benefit from some different points of view to keep us moving forwards. At Cox Automotive, we are firm believers in developing careers from within, and we already have lots of females in senior leadership positions. We also have Alison Fisher on our UK Board who is doing a phenomenal job in promoting opportunities for women and improving diversity within our ranks. We are by no means perfect, there’s still lots we could improve, but it’s firmly on our radar now.

International Women’s Day is a great tool to bring diversity to the fore, but we need to keep it on the agenda. If you’re interested in supporting us to do that you can find out more and sign up to attend our quarterly events at www.womenwithdrive.co.uk.

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