10 min read

Driving equity in the automotive industry: International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, Volkswagen Financial Services Fleet has sat down with some of the women at VWFS, to discuss how they have found working in a typically male-dominated industry, how much has changed throughout their career and what else needs to be done to truly drive equity in the automotive and finance sector.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Harriet Wiles, Corporate Account Manager: To me, it means recognition of the fact that society hasn’t always been easy on women and celebrating how times have changed for the better as we move closer to equality.

Rebeccah Brice, Strategic Sourcing and Supply Manager: International Women’s Day highlights the importance of women in the workplace and the difference we can make. Like every equality topic, it’s crucial that we spread awareness of the challenges people face in the workplace so that we can learn from these and help shape what the future looks like.

Jenny Richards, Strategic Account Manager: Feeling valued and continuing to forge a gender-equal world is extremely important to me personally.  Women haven’t always had the same right to work and vote as we do today and we need to remember the journey we’ve had.  Being a mum to three daughters means International Women’s Day resonates both at work in my role within VWFS Fleet, as well as in my home life in bringing up three girls, so continuing to build the progression made in the past for a bright and equal future for all women.

VWFS Fleet International Women's Day

How do you personally #EmbraceEquity at work and in your everyday life?

Emma Loveday, Senior Fleet Consultant: For me, embracing equity, means seizing the current cultural opportunity to better understand one another. There are a huge variety of backgrounds, cultures and identities in our society and it’s in everyone’s best interest to respect and embrace our differences -both at work and in my personal life. I try to promote equity and inclusion among those I interact with by speaking up against insensitive comments or challenging biased language that could be hurtful. The more we speak up, the more likely we are to change those behaviours, habits, or perceived acceptable social norms. Learning to listen and making sure ‘quiet voices’ are heard is also a really necessary part of easily embracing equity. When we listen we hear other people’s perspectives and can then better understand and potentially accommodate or adapt to ensure that person is included. I also try to be an ally for people in my life that are part of an under-represented or diverse group of people.

Rebeccah Brice: As a female in a predominantly male-based organisation I make sure I have a voice and that it is heard. I seek to encourage women in the workplace to focus on their careers by sharing experiences and helping to mentor them and increase their profile around the business to have their voice heard too.

I find opportunities to learn more about others by getting involved in initiatives that increase my knowledge around equality – I am a channel lead on one of our Diversity & Inclusion work streams to help aid my understanding whilst also striving to make a difference. I am also incredibly passionate about working mums in the workplace and strive to come up with ways to support working mums to have a career whilst juggling the challenges of home life, which is something that will be more crucial for me moving forwards as I take my next step into parenthood myself.

What inspired you to want to work in the fleet industry?

Harriet Wiles: My mum was a huge inspiration to me as she’s a real petrolhead and worked for VWFS Fleet when I was younger. We used to drive along the motorway and she’d have me write down company names from passing cars/vans, for her to prospect at work.

Emma Loveday: I never anticipated a career in fleet – however the passion, knowledge and support of people that work in this sector are reasons to consider working in this industry. The fleet sector is going through rapid and important changes at a time of challenging social, political and environmental circumstances. We are seeing and welcoming fast-paced innovation. If you want to work in an industry that is pioneering, challenging, and of significant importance to society – this is the place to be.

Sandra Pittard: My inspiration for joining VWFS Fleet was born from my love of cars. I had spent a few years working in the daily hire sector and was looking for a new challenge even though this meant starting at the bottom.

VWFS Fleet International Women's Day

How can we encourage more women to pursue a career in the fleet industry?

Amanda Harris, Central Sales Manager: The automotive industry is largely male-dominated however, I do believe there has been a shift over the years. There are lots of inspiring women in the fleet industry who have been very successful. I believe if the success of women is more visible, we would encourage more people to join the industry.

Jenny Richards: It’s fantastic to see so many more women in the fleet industry, particularly sales and managerial roles, now at VWFS than when I first started my career in the fleet industry 20 years ago.  We need to continue to promote equality and benefits to women in the fleet industry and in particular the sales environment.  I have been able to return from maternity leave and continue to progress in my career due to the improvements we have seen in agile, and flexible working to support work and home life balance. Having a family doesn’t mean you have to halt your career development. 

Harriet Wiles: More visibility and vocalisation from women in the industry, especially in management and positions of greater responsibility.

Are there any female figures that inspire you in your career?

Alice Counsell, Fleet Marketing Undergraduate: The first person who came to mind was my mum. She left school at 16 with a few qualifications working in secretarial work before she began working as an IT trainer as the only woman in the department. I remember her telling me she had to dress accordingly to be taken seriously and her shoulder-padded pantsuits are a reminder of that! From her experience, she set up a very small IT training and support business developing her skills further to then take a job as an IT training manager, then to a national operations manager building up her brand. Today, I consider her influence on my life to be invaluable and I take that into everything I do.

Harriet Wiles: I have made some life-long friends in this industry, with both men and women, but aside from my mum (who is retired now), my good friends Sandra Pittard and Fiona Pietersen are always my inspiration. We have each other’s back and I can always rely on both of them to give support and great advice.

What is the most important piece of advice you have been given/what advice do you have for women?

Jenny Richards: Believe in yourself and strive for something you are passionate about.  Knowledge is power and keep an appetite for learning, but be comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them. 

Emma Loveday: Don’t be quiet. Speak up. Have your say, share your thoughts and opinions, ask questions, and contribute to conversations. What you have to say is important, is valuable, and is not silly, or insignificant.

Alice Counsell: ‘Be yourself – everyone else is taken’ reminds me that focusing on yourself and your own experiences will directly support your growth and development.

How have attitudes and perceptions changed over the years regarding females in the workplace?

Harriet Wiles: This is a huge question that we could discuss for hours but I’ll start with the roles that are considered appropriate for a female now, compared to just 30 years ago. I remember in previous roles in the automotive industry we were given dresses we had to wear and a minimum heel height policy – since then, a lot has changed. Admin and secretarial work were deemed suitable, usually part-time so that child care could be covered. Now, women are free to pursue greater responsibility and longer hours. Being able to work from home and many companies ditching the classic business dress code has meant there is less pressure to conform to the ‘woman at work’ stereotype and suddenly working full time and being taken seriously, in a male-dominated industry, is less intimidating.

Rebeccah Brice: I do believe that the perception of women in the workplace has made good progress forwards, however, I do believe that there is a long road ahead to be more inclusive to all women. We are seeing more women in senior roles in the industry but are these women really diverse enough? We need women from all backgrounds who challenge the stereotypes of a male-dominated workplace themselves. Otherwise, this will not drive change for the benefit of the wider working woman population. In addition to creating opportunities for working mums, we must invest in our younger working female population and create a safe space for them to grow and develop to support moving the industry forward.

Emma Loveday: We all recognise that fleet and automotive is a male-dominated industry, however, there has been change, progression and promotion of women in our industry over the years I have worked in it. Initiatives such as ‘International Women’s Day’, which our industry embraces, are a fantastic opportunity to keep conversations going and pushing for advancements, equality and equity. There are now fantastic networking and working groups that are available for women to join that showcase the diversity of careers in fleet and transport, providing access to senior decision-makers and supporting the professional development of women working in our sector. I’m a massive advocate of female-to-female mentoring and sponsorship and having benefited from both in my early career, I’d like to see more of this. As women, we are a minority in this industry, and we have a long way to go, but what I love and what I experience so often is how we champion and support each other. Any woman who is successful in our industry is a success for us all. So we should recognise and celebrate that.

I think it’s also important to recognise that as an industry we are woefully lacking in any diversity – be it gender/ sex, racial, religious, cultural, sexual orientation or disability. I would like to see more effort in advancing and supporting these other diversity types in our sector.

Finally, how do you feel supported by VWFS in a largely male-dominated industry?

Amanda Harris: Since working at VWFS, I have always felt equal on the grounds of gender. My gender has never been a barrier when it came to progression and I do truly believe that the message of equality is shared and lived throughout the organisation. I believe the people best suited to roles are provided with the opportunity without thinking about gender. I think VWFS are one of the industry leaders in providing equal opportunities.

Harriet Wiles: Luckily I have never had to, but I strongly feel that VWFS would support and take seriously any concerns I might have, should I not be treated fairly because I am female. I feel that VWFS has set a strong paradigm and culture of zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour. My manager Jonathan Ellis is also great at this. I feel he embraces being fair and treating the women in our team with the utmost respect.

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