Bentley Promo Feature
Driving Change

The Changing Face Of The Car Industry: Meet The Women Shaping Its Future

If you’ve ever wanted a job that combines luxury materials, sustainability and cutting edge technology, the role of your dreams might be within an industry that you hadn’t previously considered – the automotive industry.
The best car companies are taking progressive steps towards sustainability and diversity and inclusion, making careers in automotive more accessible to women and people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME), who are currently underrepresented in the motor industry, according to industry employment figures. Spearheaded by The Automotive 30% Club, which is pushing for a better gender balance within the industry, member organisations are aiming to fill at least 30% of key leadership positions with women by 2030. Happily, most women (68%) have noticed positive change in the automotive industry’s attitude towards women employees in the last five years, according to Deloitte’s 2020 Women in Automotive Industry Survey.
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Refinery29 is partnering with Bentley Motors, the 101-year-old British manufacturer of luxury cars, to spotlight the women already in the industry who are making changes, showcasing the breadth of opportunities available, and acting as shining examples of what’s possible to young women and girls considering careers in STEM.
Recognising the importance of diverse experiences and perspectives to drive innovation, Bentley aims to become the most diverse luxury car manufacturer by ensuring 30% of its management come from diverse backgrounds by 2025. It has four colleague-driven networks aimed at maximising opportunities for women (it’s aiming for 30% of senior management to be female by 2030), LGBTQ+ people, the BAME community and another focusing on employee health, wellbeing and neurodiversity.
Bentley’s outreach programme is inspiring school girls to consider STEM careers and embark on COVID-safe virtual work experience, and the company is taking positive internal steps like training up more female assessors to ensure interview panels are balanced.
On top of this, as part of its Beyond100 strategy, which is about future-proofing the brand for the next century, Bentley aims to become end-to-end carbon neutral by 2030 – its Crewe headquarters is already the UK’s first carbon neutral car factory.
Progress is happening in the automotive industry, with thanks, in large part, to the women already driving change from within. Women from all walks of life, at different stages of their career, in various roles. From manufacturing and renewable energy development to academia and automotive photography, there’s a breadth of roles on offer for women and plenty of opportunities available for the next generation.
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Ahead, meet eight women already shaking up the automotive industry from the inside out.
Amy Shore, 30, is an automotive and lifestyle photographer based in Warwickshire.
I’ve worked in the automotive industry for eight years. I started off photographing weddings for the first two years at the same time as shooting cars but found the cars far more fun. I had a vague interest in cars from an early age because my dad worked in the automotive world, but it wasn’t until I photographed my first car – a replica Ferrari P4 – and visited the Goodwood Revival that I thought the classic car world was pretty cool. That was 2013 and I’ve never looked back.
Working in the automotive industry has given me so many incredible opportunities. I’ve travelled to 28 different countries in eight years and met people I never thought I’d have the chance to meet. I’d encourage other women to consider automotive careers. In the modern car world, you could be building the future of the industry, working towards sustainability and technology. In the classic car world, we’re preserving history and having a lot of fun in the meantime.
As women in the industry, we still aren’t paid or treated the same. I doubt that men feel the need to prove themselves to new colleagues or clients the moment they walk through the door. I still get asked if being a photographer is my full time job or if I’m shooting for a university course.
I want to change the way people think about the automotive industry – we’re not all old, white blokes. In my experience, more women and young people are coming on board.  I love people’s sense of adventure in the industry. We travel, we race, we take chances. Things go wrong, set on fire, crash, then people fix them and we go and do it all over again. I love that sense of being alive that ripples through this industry. 
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Ruby Akhtar, 31, based in Northampton, is a Business Relationship Lead at the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), which is accelerating the development of green automotive technology through funding, support and insights. Ruby works with the automotive industry on projects to develop new green innovation or scale up production of next-generation low-carbon technology.
When I finished university in 2011, I found a job at a small manufacturing company as an office assistant, a desk-based job which left me wanting more from my career after a year. I enrolled onto an Engineering Management master’s course and have now been working in automotive for seven years.
It’s always surprising when people think I’m a mechanic and can fix cars. Engineering isn’t always greasy, dirty and difficult. I love the variety in my job – sitting around a table and discussing ideas to solve a problem, meeting people at all levels of an organisation, and watching great ideas to decarbonise transport become finished projects.
A highlight of my career so far was being part of a team leading STEM activities in a diverse inner-city primary school. I was proud to represent the minority – a Bangladeshi woman working in engineering. I’ve worked with the school over a six-week period each year for several years and have carried out surveys before and after the project to gauge its impact. I was amazed by how I’d changed the children’s perceptions of jobs in engineering.
I’d like to see better representation of role models from diverse backgrounds in the automotive industry. When I started my career, my family struggled to understand what I was doing, and my teachers didn’t encourage me to pursue a role in engineering. I want to see passion, excitement, and enthusiasm from the next generation of boys and girls. This must be supported by schools and local initiatives, which can give children the opportunities I never had, but stumbled across accidentally.
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My career goals have changed over the years. I’ve moved away from wanting recognition for progress, to wanting to make a difference and have a role which has a positive impact in the wider world. I want to support businesses of all sizes and be involved in the development of UK projects which are crucial for reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions.
Helen Davock, 48, based in Crewe, is Bentley’s Head of Laboratory who has been with the company for 21 years. At the Laboratory, Helen has a team of specialist scientists that test and analyse the material of almost any component of the car to ensure and improve quality. The team are also work closely with the Research and Development department on new luxury sustainable materials for the Bentleys of the future. She is also an Honorary Visiting Professor in the School of Engineering at the University of Liverpool.
Before joining Bentley, I was a Research Associate at the University of Liverpool and was only considering an academic career. Then one day I was doing a lecture when I realised that although I could explain the theory of materials, I didn’t have any real world practical knowledge. I left to gain that experience so I could be a credible lecturer, with the full intention of returning within three years. I just never have.
I’m often asked by female engineers at university if I’m discriminated against or receive derogatory comments because I work in a male-dominated industry. Thankfully that’s not the case. The automotive industry could be more diverse, but this is an issue affecting all STEM careers.
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From a female perspective, I was one of only three girls in my school who did A-level physics and there were just three females on my university course. Gender conditioning starts young – I wish we could remove gender stereotypes in children’s toys. It’s no coincidence that I enjoyed playing with practical toys, such as Lego and Meccano, and went into engineering.
I wish more people knew about the sheer diversity of automotive roles available, from styling, finance, purchasing, development or project management, to scientists and lawyers.
Kudakwashe Diana Oniko, 32, based in Stoke-on-Trent, is a Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering specialising in materials and manufacturing at Staffordshire University.
My mum wanted me to be a doctor, but as a child I gravitated towards fixing and taking apart engineered components like plugs and computers. I also enjoyed looking under the hood of cars and was always curious about the purpose of each component. When I was a teenager, I was sure my future career would combine my love of physics, maths and hands-on activities. My mentor matched me to engineering subjects at university, I applied and have never looked back.
I worked with various automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for six years before breaking into academia. My job took me around the world to numerous automotive manufacturing plants and professional and academic conferences where I’d present research. I always envisioned going back into academia and developing my knowledge of the manufacturing processes used in the automotive industry. But more importantly, I wanted to share my experiences in the industry with upcoming young female engineers. I told them it’s possible to have a successful career in a male-dominated field.
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Most people stereotype women in engineering as masculine in their appearance and characteristics. When I joined the industry, I was often judged because I preferred to wear dresses, wear my hair down and wear lipstick and I received scepticism about my knowledge and ability as an engineer. My appearance also influenced how some of my colleagues addressed and acted around me – I had nicknames like “Petal” and “Flower”.
In rooms where I felt judged for being a woman, being black, or both, I tried to view those scenarios as opportunities to exhibit how good I am at my job. If you’re good at your job, your gender, race and other social categories are irrelevant.
 
While there has been progress made towards diversity and inclusion in the automotive and other engineering industries, I’d like to see more BAME role models. A 2018 report showed that just 2% of engineering professionals are women from BAME backgrounds. Organisations showcasing and actively championing diversity will have a positive direct impact on that statistic moving forward.
Jordan Brompton, 32, based in Lincolnshire, is the co-founder and CMO of myenergi, which designs and manufactures renewable energy products, including the world’s first eco-smart electric vehicle charging device.
We started myenergi in 2016 with nothing apart from good ideas and serious passion for change. My ‘aha moment’ was when we got the very first prototype of our zappi EV charger working on the workbench and I realised it really was possible to charge an electric car directly from solar panels. I knew this would be the start of something huge and that our tech could help to redefine the future of the industry.
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Before myenergi, I was running a cycling import business. While I enjoyed the challenges and opportunities of the sector, I wanted to work in something I was truly passionate about and where I could help to make a real difference. When I realised that I could combine my passion for sustainability with my interest in electric vehicles (EV), it was a lightbulb moment.
As the EV industry has developed, it’s become clear that women have a huge interest in electric cars and seem to be transitioning faster to alternative fuels than men. We need to attract more women to the space – that’s why my aim is to be a figurehead for the industry, act as a role model and show what’s achievable if you put your mind to it. The support and collaboration between women already in the industry is incredible. I know so many amazing women in the industry, including the fantastic women that work with me at myenergi – I couldn’t do it without them.
Global domination is absolutely on my mind. I want to take our products to new markets and continue to meet amazing people. I see myself in the industry for the rest of my career, so I want to make it as exciting and inspirational as possible.
Bhavisha Lad, 36, based in Leicestershire, is a Resourcing Lead at HORIBA MIRA, an automotive engineering and development consultancy. Bhavisha supports and manages the company’s recruitment strategy.
I’ve always loved cars and when the opportunity arose to work at HORIBA MIRA in 2018, I was hooked from the beginning. We support vehicle manufacturers with everything from technology development to full-vehicle design, development and build programmes. With automotive undergoing such transformational change, it was a brilliant time to join the industry.
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I used to work in recruitment for a financial services company, before moving into the energy sector. Since joining the automotive industry three years ago, I’ve been working to attract new talent and develop existing talent to its full potential. Combining my interest in ensuring talent is encouraged and harnessed, with my love for the automotive industry has been a bonus.
At the beginning of my career, as a young woman joining a male-dominated energy industry, I didn’t have confidence in my knowledge, ability or myself, and I felt I had to prove my worth. Over the years, I’ve built up my confidence and faith in my skills and ability.
After 10 years in resourcing, being recognised by Autocar in the 2021 Rising Star awards in the People Development category was a highlight. It was an achievement to be among such inspirational women in automotive, especially as a relative newcomer to the industry. 
No industry is out of reach – if you’re a woman considering a career in automotive, take the leap. It’s not just working with cars. The field is vast, creative, innovative and thought-provoking and we’re undergoing a technological revolution. It’s such an exciting time to be in the industry, with new skills required to take us into the future. There are lots of opportunities to succeed.
Raj Robinson, 44, is a Manufacturing Technical Expert for System and Strategy at Bentley Motors. She’s responsible for driving the delivery of the manufacturing strategy for the future of Bentley, in line with the company’s Beyond100 strategy. Raj also leads a project looking at the development of new processes and methodologies to enhance the business.
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I’ve lived in Cheshire for many years and have driven past Bentley on a daily basis. I always wondered what it would be like to work there, so when I saw a job advertised six years ago, I applied even though I had no automotive or manufacturing experience. At the time, I had over 23 years’ experience in project management and process improvement in the IT and financial services sectors. 
One of my biggest highlights so far was developing the Covid-19 roadmap last year. I re-wrote all of the business processes to ensure they were Covid safe and worked with all the functions to ensure that Bentley could open. As a result, Bentley became the first manufacturing business in the UK to open its doors during the pandemic.
When I tell people I work in the automotive industry, their first thought is often I work as a PA or in HR. They’re usually surprised when I say I work in manufacturing and that for most of my career in automotive I’ve been out and about on the factory floor.
The automotive industry isn’t just a man’s club. We want more women to be inquisitive and find out more about the roles we offer. The industry has become more aware of diversity and how having people from different diverse backgrounds adds value, enhances creativity, and drives innovation.
To other women considering a career in automotive, I’d say trust your instinct. Only you know what you’re capable of. If you think you can do it then you can. Don’t be afraid to go for something out of your comfort zone. I’m a perfect example of this.
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Emily Hall, 44, is an Aftersales Manager at The Sytner Group who represents Bentley to customers. She leads a team of technicians, customer service advisors, parts advisors, valeters and drivers to deliver top-level service to clients while their luxury motor car is looked after.
I joined the motor trade straight from school, 28 years ago. I was drawn to the varied work and career opportunities and working alongside fabulous state-of-the art vehicles. I initially worked in accounts and admin at the motor dealership and eventually became a CIMA qualified accountant while working in accounts at the motor dealer.
Six years ago I left accounting and became an Aftersales Manager. I lead a team of technicians, customer service advisors, parts advisors, valeters and drivers to deliver the best level of service to clients. In my first year, I was awarded Bentley Aftersales Manager of the Year and Sytner Aftersales Manager of the Year, which is still my proudest moment.
People view the automotive industry as “dirty” and assume you’re covered in oil all day long. They also think you must be “one of the lads,” so they’re often surprised to see me wearing a dress and high heels. Sometimes customers are surprised to see a woman in charge.
I’d like to see more women and younger people in the industry. Still today, when I advertise a role I get very few women applicants. The industry has progressed so much over the years but there’s still a stigma attached.
The automotive industry is dynamic, flexible and open to all people and abilities and a great environment to build a career. Roles include admin, accounts, HR, marketing, customer service, training, and that’s before you even get to selling or mending vehicles. The industry can provide a broad range of skills to anyone with the right attitude willing to learn.
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Click here to discover more about Bentley Motors' Beyond100 strategy.
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