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10 Women Essential to the Success of the Automotive Industry

10 Women Essential to the Success of the Automotive Industry

Madeleine Coe | On 22, Mar 2017

A few years ago, we wrote about the contributions of women in the automotive industry as part of the annual celebration of Women’s History Month every March. This year, at the crux of an important time for the advancement of women in the workplace, we wanted to revisit the topic and measure the success and progress of women in automotive leadership.

It’s true that women are still drastically underrepresented in the automotive pipeline, but progress is being made and we were excited to see many more articles exploring women’s representation and contributions. In 2015, Automotive News launched a new initiative, called the Automotive News Leading Women Network, described as “a community of executives who have a clear set of goals: to educate, empower and create opportunities for young women in automotive.” It was inspired by Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, who credits her successful career in part to an internal GM program called the Affinity Group for Women.

Although women are almost half of the U.S. labor force, they still represent only about one-quarter of the automotive workforce, with 16.9% at the executive and senior management level in the motor vehicle manufacturing industry. Growth is slow and a lack of respect for female automotive employees can be attributed to the automotive industry’s failure to attract and retain women, particularly in entry-level positions.

Although women now make up 21.2% of automobile dealers, they still comprise of less than a tenth of automotive repair and maintenance employees. Women of color are even further underrepresented according to EEOC reporting, with a total employment rate of about nine percent of the workforce with a third of that comprising of executive/senior and management level employees.

Still, some are hopeful.

“Progress for women in leadership roles in the auto industry has been slower than people had hoped,” says Cindy Niekamp, senior vice president at PPG Automotive Coatings, in an interview with Heidrick & Struggles Executive Search Firm. “The financial crisis halted progress for several years. But there’s new opportunity now. Transformational opportunities attract top talent of both genders. And the auto industry is definitely undergoing transformation.”

Every advancement made by a woman enhances the automotive industry not just for women, but for all. This list was put together, in no particular order, to showcase the variety of contributions that women have made. We were proud to be able to feature several women of color in the roster this time around. Here are a few of the women who have contributed their talent to the automotive industry.


Monisha Kaltenborn, Formula One

Monisha Kaltenborn was the first female team principal of a Formula One team. As CEO and Team Principal of Sauber Motorsports, she takes an active role in frontline management of the team. Kaltenborn, who holds a master’s in International Business Law, has experience working with the UN, and a long history with the Sauber F1 team and Motorsports group.


Audra Fordin, Women Auto Know

Audra Fordin is the 4th generation owner and operator of Great Bear Auto Repair and Auto Body Shop in Flushing, New York and founder of Women Auto Know / Drivers Auto Know. Audra empowers women to be more knowledgeable drivers, passengers, and consumers by taking the fear out of auto repair. Audra brings better shops to better drivers through her programs nationwide.


Alicia Boler-Davis, General Motors

Alicia Boler-Davis’ contributions were recognized when she was promoted from manufacturing engineer to senior vice president of global quality and customer experience at GM. Even before her promotion to senior VP, Automotive News recognized her in their list of 100 Leading Women in the North American Automotive Industry. In 2014, she received the Technologist of the year award by the Women in Colour Magazine.


Elizabeth Baron, Ford

Elizabeth Baron manages the Immersive Virtual Environment Lab at Ford Motor Co. As a technical specialist in virtual reality and advanced visualization, her work allows designers and engineers to experience a vehicle before the prototype is built, using virtual reality (VR) technology where a person is immersed in a photo-realistic environment. With the rise of VR technology in the past few years, leading the automotive space with developments in VR is a crucial role.

Claire Williams, Formula One

As one of the most senior women in Formula One racing, Claire Williams is the Williams F1 deputy team principal and communications director. She is responsible for marketing, communications and the commercial aspects of the team’s business. Williams was recently recognized as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and uses her position as an advocate for women considering careers in engineering and technology.


Susie Wolff, Formula One

Susie Wolff made history in July 2014 when she became the first female in 22 years to drive on a Grand Prix Weekend, having joined Williams F1 team in 2012. A fierce athlete, Wolff challenged perceptions in a male-dominated sport. She retired from active motorsports and founded the Dare To Be Different initiative together with the Motor Sports Association, with the goal of inspiring and driving female talent in motorsports.


Diane Allen, Nissan Design America

Dianne Allen is the Senior Design Manage at Nissan Design America. Her passion for automotive started early in her career; she interned for Ford while obtaining her Bachelor of Science in transportation design. Her 30-year career at Nissan that has allowed her to design some iconic vehicles, including the Nissan 350Z, the Nissan Armada, and the first and second-gen Nissan TITAN.


Chris Barman, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Chris Barman acts as the Vice President of Engineering of the U.S. division of Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles. She leads the team responsible for the design, development, validation and quality of electrical and electronic components and systems.


Leah Curry, Toyota North America

Leah Curry oversees the Indiana facility of Toyota Motor North America as Vice President of Manufacturing. She was drawn to the fast-paced, competitive, and global nature of auto-making, and developed her leading role under the mentorship of Susan Elkington, who held the position previously. Curry is passionate about actively recruiting females into careers in auto manufacturing.


Lisa Copeland, Fiat-Alfa Romeo

Lisa Copeland was the managing partner of Fiat- Alfa Romeo of Austin and has had over 25 years of career success in automotive. A dedicated pioneer in the field of automotive sales and brand strategy, she has been a trailblazer to revolutionize the automotive industry and has received many awards and recognitions along the way, including: 2017 Forbes Council of Coaches, Top 100 Women in Automotive Industry in 2015 by Automotive News, Served four years on the FCA National Dealer Council and led the first FIAT retailer to break the NAFTA sales record.


At a time of dynamic change in the automotive industry, it is essential to promote equal representation of women as automotive marketing becomes more focused on customer experience and technology. Women play a major role in household vehicle purchases as well as for themselves, representing 65% of consumer vehicle purchases according to Bloomberg. Companies should place the customer at the center of everything they do—and they can’t do that well if they don’t have a strong representation of women leaders throughout the business.

These are just a few of the women who hold leadership positions in the automotive industry, and we are optimistic to see continued growth and diversification of the roles of women in the industry.

Happy Women’s History Month!


Sources: Consumer Opinion Institute, Wheels.ca

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