When you think of the automotive industry, it’s easy to think that it’s a business solely made up of men.
From the famous early industrialists like Henry Ford, to the maverick company owners like Enzo Ferrari, through to the many men who have dominated motorsport over the last one hundred plus years.
But it’s not just a man’s world. There are women out there who play a vital role in the success of the automotive industry.
To celebrate International Woman’s Day, here is our list of the 10 most influential women who have made their mark on the automotive industry, either today or in its illustrious past.
The first name on our list gets most of her recognition from another area – the film industry. Florence Lawrence was a star of the silver screen in the 1910s, starring in silent films and becoming what some call the first ‘movie star’.
So what does that have to do with motoring? Well, the story goes that Florence was getting sick of driving only to have cars suddenly brake or turn in front of her.
Not only was this causing lots of accidents, it made driving a headache. Florence designed a flag system that worked very much like our indicators and brake lights work today, albeit in a much more simpler fashion.
Sadly, Florence did not patent her designs so made no profit from them. What she did do was make driving a whole lot safer, and her influence is still here today, even if we do not know it.
The surname may give you a clue as to the nature of Bertha Benz’s impact on the automotive industry.
The wife of Karl Benz, of Mercedes-Benz fame, she saw the potential of her husband’s invention before he did.
She took the prototype automobile and drove to her mother’s house, despite there being no roads on the 56-mile route.
She demonstrated the car could work. And, when she stopped at a tanner’s to have leather straps fitted to the brakes shoes, she helped invent brake linings.
The recent launch of the Jaguar F Pace was one of the company’s biggest successes. A successful entry into the crossover SUV market was an unlikely story, but Jaguar managed to make it happen. A big reason behind that success is Danella Bagnall. Danella was chief product engineer on the project, helping to turn the concept into a successful reality.
Her career in engineering began when she was just 16. She took an apprenticeship at Austin Rover in Coventry.
Her hard work and skill paid off as she worked her way up to a position at Tata Motors and Jaguar Land Rover.
As well as the F Pace, Danella also worked on the original Ranger Rover Sport and the recent Jaguar XJ.
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Being a part of a motorsport dynasty can’t be easy for anyone, never mind a woman. So for Claire Williams to have become such an important part of one of F1’s biggest race teams, it’s no mean feat.
Starting off as a communications officer in the team, she took her place on the board when her father stepped down. She went on to be named the deputy team principal for the team.
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It’s one thing for a woman to break into motorsport. It’s another to compete on the track and actually win. Danica Patrick is one of the biggest stars in US racing.
Starting from an early age, Danica was racing against boys and winning. The route to the top wasn’t easy, with funding and sexism an issue. But Danica wasn’t going to give up.
Danica made her debut in the IndyCar series in 2005 and was an immediate success. She became the first woman to win an IndyCar race, and is one of only 14 drivers to lead the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 race.
Our one to watch in the automotive industry. The future of driving is autonomous, and it could be that a woman is a big part of that future.
Amy Rimmer has been working at Jaguar Land Rover on developing the technology. She has already taken the lead on hands-free motorway tests. Making a name for herself now, it is likely it will be even bigger in the future.
image source: http://bitly.ws/7YBs
The first woman to ever lead the design team for a supercar, Michelle Christensen is the designer behind the looks of one of our favourite sportscars – the Honda Acura NSX.
She talks more about the process in the video below.
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You can’t get much more important in the automotive industry than Mary Barra. As CEO of General Motors, she has been entrusted with one of the biggest car makers on the planet.
The first woman to ever be named head of a major motor manufacturer, Mary has worked her way up to become one of the most powerful players in the automotive industry.
Inspired by her father, she started at GM at just 18. She said, ‘My father was a die maker for 39 years, so I had a basic understanding of the automobile industry and what the manufacturing world was like, just from the opportunity to spend time with him - just talking, because he was a car buff.’
Following in the footsteps of one of the biggest motoring dynasties in history, Elena Ford is not resting on the power of her last name.
The great-great-granddaughter of Henry Ford, Elena is the first female in the family to make her way to Vice President of the company.
She is the driving force behind Ford’s success, and ensures the company continues to be a global powerhouse.
image source: http://bitly.ws/7YBg
As CEO of Citroen, Linda Jackson has firmly established herself as one of the motor industry’s big players.
Like two others on this list, Linda’s entry into the auto industry came at Jaguar. It was while she was at Rover that she was sponsored to complete an MBA in business.
She continued on at Rover for several years before moving to Citroen as finance director.
Her work was soon recognised and when it came time to appoint a new CEO, Linda was the obvious choice. She was named most influential woman by Autocar in 2018.