‘You drive really well…” someone says, “…for a woman”. Well, and there it is! The misogyny we just can’t seem to get rid of. The automotive is, like many other industries in the world, still very male-dominated. Whether we talk about race car drivers, mechanics or CEOs; it’s quite rare for a woman to be in the limelight for her contributions in the automotive world.
For years, women have been considered not capable of understanding how cars work. Now this belief is starting to change in more and more environments. Here are five examples of the exceptional women who are transforming the way many people perceive the role of women in motorsports and the car sector.
Maria Teresa de Filippis
Some may find it surprising but the involvement of women in motorsports goes as far back as 1958 when Maria Teresa de Filippis took part in the Belgian Grand Prix and landed the tenth position. Her passion for driving began at 22, when her brothers bet that she couldn’t drive fast and she was determined to prove them wrong. Despite her great skills as a driver she had to deal with the prejudice that exists to this day. An official at the French Grand Prix told her “The only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser’s.”
After the 1959 Monaco Grand Prix she retired from driving but made her comeback in 1979 by joining the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers. She was the club’s vice-president in 1997 and also became the president of the Maserati Club.
Shawna Robinson was the first woman to win a NASCAR series in 1988 where she also won ‘Most Popular Drive’ and ‘Rookie of the Year’ titles. She competed in all three NASCAR national touring series. Robinson also won the pole of all three major series and won at qualifications for Xfinity Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1994. Her feats as a female driver serve as an inspiration for many young girls all over the world.
After Maria de Filippis, lella Lombardi is the only woman who qualified for a Formula One race. She competed in three seasons from 1974 to 1976. She entered seventeen races and started twelve having her best result in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix where Lombardi finished in sixth.
She’s the sole female driver to score points in Formula One World Championship – and the only driver with a career total of half a point. For Lombardi, it was all about racing. She did not distinguish herself as a female driver, nor did she seek fame for it. Nonetheless, she made her mark in history and will forever be remembered for it.
Danica Patrick that’s carved out a legacy by competing (not just taking part) in the ultra-competitive NASCAR and IndyCar, at which she’s the only woman to have won a race – Japan 2008.
In 2008, Danica Patrick became the first woman to win an Indycar race. In 2010 she joined NASCAR and in 2012 she won the pole position – the second female to do so after Shawna Robinson and was honoured as NASCAR’s Most Popular Nationwide Driver the same year.
She also got the pole position in the 2013 Daytona 500. The highest finish for any female NASCAR drivers was her 8th position in the Daytona 500 as well. She retired last year, but her achievements will outlive her career.
Behind the scenes
These female drivers prove that women can drive just as well as men. As Desiré Wilson put it, “My opinion is that women are actually stronger mentally than men are… It’s the individual person, what you are made up of, what you want in life, how hard do you want to fight for it and how serious and focused you are.”
Some women are gaining fame as successful drivers while others are making their mark behind the curtains of the automotive industry.
According to a survey by Cars.com, over 60% of women are “the sole decision-maker when it comes to purchasing their next car”. As women make the majority of the buyers, increasing the number of women in the top positions would surely benefit automobile companies.
Mary Teressa Barra
In 2014, Mary Teressa Barra became the first female CEO and chairman of a major automotive producer General Motors. But the journey was anything but easy. She started working at GM in the 80’s while she was still a college student. After more than three decades of hard work and diligence, she made her way up the corporate ladder so that in 2016, she was the highest paid automobile CEO in America. Few can deny her success as under her leadership, GM has seen great success including a $7.9-billion profit in 2018.
Despite her success, she still has to stress for a more gender-inclusive and diverse environment. “Ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace is a critical business imperative, and we treat it that way,” Barra said when speaking to USA TODAY.
Despite the presence of these inspirational women in the automotive sector, the issue still stands. Women are still not being encouraged or supported enough in joining the car industry. Hopefully, the increasing awareness on the lack of inclusivity and diversity will bear fruit in the coming years.