Children Meet the Motor Industry

Based on the idea that ‘if they can see it, they can be it’, the UK Automotive 30% Club Inspiring Automotive Women event on 7th June introduced influential role models to young children at The Hill Primary Academy in Barnsley, Yorkshire to address career segregation by gender along with misogynistic attitudes. The women included vehicle technician apprentices, graduates, managers, senior executives and directors.

Tackling such career segregation means introducing role models to children at a young age –research[i] by the charity Education and Employers shows that gender stereotypes are set in a primary school, and children’s career aspirations are heavily influenced (and often limited) by parents and people they have met.

Therefore, Julia Muir, founder of the UK Automotive 30% Club and CEO of Gaia Innovation, decided to hold the event in a primary school, so children as young as 10 years old would meet role model women from the automotive sector. The women, volunteers from the UK Automotive 30% Club companies, came from various industry companies, including Kia, Bentley, Skoda, Burrows Motor Group, TrustFord, Jardine Motor Group, and Autotrader. The event was designed and managed by Gaia Innovation and sponsored by Vertu Motors plc.

Both girls and boys were involved in the day’s events, which aimed to show girls that a job in the automotive industry is a realistic career aspiration and to show boys that women are valued and respected in the industry.

The Hill Primary Academy is part of the Astrea Academy Trust, a family of schools based predominantly in South Yorkshire. Libby Nicholas, Chief Executive of the Astrea Academy Trust welcomed guests to the school. She commented: “It’s been absolutely amazing. When I first visited The Hill, it was very clear it’s a community and school vastly under-served by adults, generational neglect and neglect from the local authority and it was a school in crisis. When I arrived today, and saw a room full of all our year 5’s, all our year 6’s wearing blazers and ties, and listening to leaders from across the UK talking about aspiration, about development, about potential, about being the driver of your own life rather than a passenger, it just gave me goosebumps and filled me with awe.”

An interview and Q&A session (led by Julia Muir) began the day’s events. Two auto industry HR directors (Sharon Ashcroft of TrustFord and Clare Martin of Jardine Motor Group) explained why having the right attitude and work ethic is so important, and advised the children on how to achieve future career goals.

Sharon commented: “I think the school should be really proud of the students because they’ve been very respectful in terms of how they’ve behaved, very grown up. They had questions prepared and they listened.”

Clare added: “It’s a great initiative in getting kids at a young age thinking about jobs and careers and we definitely need to do more of these types of things with other schools to give kids a chance.”

During the following career speed-networking session, the children asked questions about the women’s lives and personal stories. Then, children worked on a task with the volunteer women, themed around the key areas of Marketing and Sales, Aftersales, and Engineering and Design. Activities included creating a hashtag and wording for a social media advert, designing a feature for a car that would appeal to women, and identify different car parts.

Julia Muir said: “It was fantastic to see so many women from all parts of the automotive industry taking time out of their jobs, travelling across the country to this primary school near Barnsley, and showing the children they care about them and their futures. It was clear that both the children and the women enjoyed the day immensely.”

The final session of the afternoon was an executive panel in the format of ‘Question Time’, with Robert Forrester (CEO, Vertu Motors Group), Neil Williamson (CEO, Jardine Motors Group), Julia Greenhough (Marketing Director, TrustFord), Helen Mutter (General Manager, Planning and Programmes, Kia UK), Heidi Cartledge (Strategy Development Manager, Skoda UK), Nicola Gough (Head of Department – Closures Engineering, Bentley), and Elaine Cole (Commercial Director, Vertu Motors). Julia Muir chaired the panel.

Commenting on the day, Robert Forrester said: “This has been an excellent day. Hopefully, it will have got into the minds of some of the children that there is another world out there of business, and if they aspire and work hard at school, they’ll be able to enter the world of work with confidence and have a great, successful career.”

Julia Greenhough added: “I’m really passionate about this. From the moment I stepped into the automotive industry five years ago, I could see there was far too big a gender gap. To be inspired by other women, and obviously some of the male speakers as well – it’s always good to hear their perspective and what they’re trying to do to drive that change. To meet the kids and give them the opportunity, it’s fantastic. Hopefully, if even one child comes away inspired by today then we’ve had a good day.”

For Elaine Cole, her favourite part of the day was answering the children’s questions: “‘They were very keen to be asked questions. I think the children have got out of it the understanding that women have got important, interesting jobs and they might not have met anyone like us before, so it’s a different perspective. I hope if there’s even just one child that we’ve inspired to go to university or to come into the automotive industry we’ll have done a good job.”

Sharon said: “What was especially nice was when the girls said they want to be a vet, instead of saying I want to be a veterinary assistant or nurse – that’s telling of the work Julia and the team have done with them in terms of aiming higher. It’s been an absolutely great day, we’ve felt really welcomed, and my team has thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Julia Muir added: “The children have been inspired to aim high in their careers and think beyond gender-segregated roles. They now understand that women can do any job that men can – and are in fact doing – in the automotive industry. The staff and the children of The Hill were wonderful hosts, and we all had a fabulous day.”

Libby concluded: “This is about the power of human collaboration to focus on areas of need and solve the problems in those communities. Our schools in Barnsley suffer from high levels of misogyny, and very traditional views of female and male roles. What we’re doing here is smashing all those notions to pieces. To see the girls so confidently engaged is just an absolute joy. It’s been wonderfully organised and hugely inspiring, and I feel very privileged to be CEO today.”

[i] Children’s career aspirations limited by gender stereotypes and socio-economic background, report shows.
19 January 2018.

The report, of which UCL Institute of Education (IOE) is a partner, was launched by Education and Employers. Other partners include Tes, the NAHT, and OECD Education and Skills.