Basak Ozer recalls her school days when she was one of three women in an electrical engineering class of 180.
Astrid Fontaine says she was one of four females in a class of 152 pursuing manufacturing engineering degrees.
That lopsidedness once was the norm. People accepted it, Fontaine says, adding that the conventional attitude of the time was: “ʽNot many young women are interested in engineering, so what?’
“Nowadays, there’s much more awareness.”
Fontaine and Ozer participate in a panel discussion entitled “Women in Auto Technology,” during an online industry conference put on by the Reuters news agency.
More and more women are joining automotive technology ranks, but there’s a way to go before gender parity – or something close to it – is reached, say panelists. “It’s still not uncommon for me to be the only woman in meetings,” says Amanda Skura, Audi’s head of digital technologies.
Ozer (pictured below, left) says she’s “happy to say” a third of her team are women. She is vice president-user experience and industrial design at Motional, a startup that builds robotaxis.
“Schoolgirls who are studying math and science will be looking for tech jobs a decade later,” she says. “I try to be a role model.”
Fontaine is automaker Bentley’s first board member for People, Digitalization and IT, a position created in 2018. During her career, she’s worked in different countries.
“When I saw real women leadership was when I moved from Europe to the U.S.,” she says. “The U.S. was ahead then. but now Europe is the same in terms of fostering diversity.”
Employee diversity creates more innovation, she says, noting women influence the majority of car buying, either as individual consumers or family members. “There is plenty of evidence for companies to put diversity high on their agendas.”
“Mentors play an important role” for women starting out in the business, says Indu Vijayan, director-product management at AEye, a company that creates lidar technology for advanced driver-assist systems and autonomous vehicles.
She holds a degree in computer engineering and is the founder of Women in Autonomy. She began at AEye as a software engineer.
Conference session panelists recall supportive supervisors of both sexes early in their careers.
“I’ve had male bosses who helped me as mentors,” says Bentley’s Fontaine (pictured below, left). “A turning point for me was a female executive at Mercedes-Benz. She was inspirational and brought a different perspective. She was the only woman in the executive suite.”
Today, Fontaine mentors three female colleagues. “It’s a matter of being there, listening and giving hints on directions to go,” she says. “Before, mentoring was less formal. Now, it is structured.”
Audi’s Skura says: “Same old, same old isn’t going to cut it. If we don’t bring in new voices, we’re not going to make it through these disruptions. And we need people to be their genuine selves.”
Steve Finlay is a retired WardsAuto senior editor. He can be reached at [email protected].