The Benz Patent-Motorwagen is widely recognised as being the first road vehicle to work with a combustion engine and its creation was credited to Karl Benz.  But did you know that it was his wife, Bertha who stumped up the cash for her hubby’s project? Not only that, she was behind the wheel of her husband’s invention for its first 121 mile round trip. Learn about the women behind our wheels.

Hit the brakes

Another leading light, literally, in the car world was Florence Lawrence who in 1914 was the first person to invent the indicator and brake lights!  However her failure to patent her invention meant that Oscar Smiler was credited with the invention. Mary Anderson added to the evolution of driving in 1903 when she invented the windshield wiper.

Need for Speed

In the 1950’s racy ladies were represented well by Denise McCluggage. She was a motoring journalist who in 1959, became the first woman to win a sports car event. She was driving a Porsche RS and the event took place at Thompsons Raceway.  She won a place in the Automotive Hall of Fame for her efforts, the only woman ever to have been given such an accolade!

Making some headway

There is no doubt that women are taking their place at the forefront of politics and industry. The car industry, although it has been long dominated by men, is also seeing infiltration and excellence by women. But this is not a take over, as by far women are still most often in peripheral roles. We feel that if anything is going to change in the motor industry we need to see more women at the wheel.

Leading ladies

At Aston Martin, Laura Schwab who was appointed in 2015 as the motoring giant’s first female president of the Americas, this summer will launch the open Autocar Great British Women in the Car Industry Rising Stars event along with the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders).  Schwab came from a 15-year stint at Jaguar Landrover where she undertook just about every role possible. The thinking behind the summer event is to applaud and encourage women in the motor industry to keep going and take their place in the higher echelons, inspired by Schwab’s own success story as a woman in a man’s world. 

Another luminary is Barb Samardizich who had been a stalwart of Ford for many years.  Now she has taken her seat on the Aident board of directors. Aident are a big noise in car seating. 

Flying the flag for the women in the motor industry

In the UK Louise O’Sullivan at Renault has taken up the Director of Network Operations in the UK having previously been in charge of the Dacia business, while at Ford, Mandy Dean has become the UK’s Marketing Director while Chief Executive of French giant Citroen, Linda Jackson who is British and a grandmother says that she makes regular visits to showrooms to check out the competition.  

VW explores technical trades 

To truly be an influencing factor in the motor industry means that women need to be at the top but they also need to be at all levels of the industry being hands-on in every area.  Taking up this mantra, In Germany the motoring giant VW took the initiative of inviting more than one thousand female students from different parts of the country to attend a ‘Germany for Girl’s’ day this year. This gave girls the chance to see first hand the technical trades and skills needed in the motor industry, learning from women already in trade jobs.

These are all great steps towards capitalising on the great start that those women back in history, who were trailblazers in the motor industry, made.  However, until the day comes that when we pop down to the garage for an MOT and find as many women as men in the garage waiting to service our car, there is still quite a way to go.  As we learn that the number of women driving on Britain’s roads has risen and is still on the rise, we need to be represented proportionally not just behind the wheel but also in all areas of the motor industry.

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