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Theme 9: Addressing Diversity and Image

While steps have been taken to try and address the continued under-representation of women and minority groups within the European Automotive sector these issues still remain, with significant improvements in the image and perceptions of the sector needed if it is to become fully inclusive and maximise the available talent pool.

 There is a mixed pattern of female engagement with STEM subjects [1] and subsequently STEM related jobs, such as engineering, across the EU. 

In Germany the figure for women employed by automotive manufacturers is 18% and in France 16% [2], while in the UK 19% of the national automotive sector is female.

Looking more broadly at the proportion of females employed in engineering and science related occupations this figure increases to just over 40% on average within the EU [3]. However, this under-representation is not universal. In the case of Lithuania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Portugal, Denmark and Norway Eurostat data indicates women outnumber men in these occupations, [4] indicating gender equity is perfectly possible. 

Specifically in relation to apprentices within the automotive sector, an under-representation of females is again evident, although patterns by country and individual employer vary.  

In the UK females make up less than 18% of higher apprentices in engineering and manufacturing, and 7.4% of all engineering apprentices [5]. Specifically in relation to automotive apprentices evidence suggests this proportion is far lower, with 2% being female in 2016/17 [6].

Evidence from Volkswagen in Germany indicates that in 2019, of the 1,400 career entrants starting their dual vocational training or their dual course of studies with Volkswagen 389, or 28% were female [7].

More recently the COVID-19 crisis has compounded gender disparities across all industries, as a result of increased reliance of unpaid care for which women carry a disproportional burden [8], a situation likely to have been mirrored within the automotive sector.   

In relation to ethnic diversity in the automotive industry there is much less information, but a recent article points out that in  the US automotive industry there are still only a few top Black executives, most notably the now-retired Ed Welburn at General Motors and Fiat Chrysler design boss Ralph Gilles [9]. There is even less information regarding the automotive sector workforce profile in relation to disability. 

Available evidence suggests tackling diversity within the Automotive sector is not just an ethical issue, but a strong business case can be made for tackling these issues, with reports highlighting that the global recovery needs to include a focus on increasing diversity within the sector [10]. In terms of the business benefits of addressing diversity issues, evidence indicates:
  • The sector will benefit from pursuing the goal of increased diversity as companies with a varied workforce often outperform non-diverse companies on profitability [11].
  • Increased diversity improves overall company performance [12].
Changing the image of the European Automotive sector does not come without challenges, due to longstanding negative perceptions and attitudes. 

Key challenges faced by the Automotive sector in terms of improving both the diversity and the image within the sector include:
  • The predominance of males within the automotive sector which contributes to negative perceptions of the sector amongst female engineers [13].
  • A particular focus on gender issues within the sector risks neglecting other equally relevant, diversity and image issues such as race, disability, religion and sexual orientation [14].

Despite the challenges outlined above, the image of the EU automotive sector is changing with an increase in the number of females engaging with careers in engineering broadly [15]

Across Europe Automotive companies have become increasingly aware of the need to tackle the varied diversity and image issues facing the sector with a range of examples of different initiatives highlighting both the practical steps being taken and that longer term progress is achievable. 

In relation to tackling:
  • Gender issues, both Rolls-Royce and Jaguar Land-Rover that have made conscious efforts to increase the number of female participants within their engineering departments and more fundamentally to increase female engagement with STEM subjects; ŠKODA Academy has pioneered a Girls Day event each year, aiming to increase the number of girls partaking in vocational education, an area where the deficit in female engagement is significant [16]. The gender disparities relating directly to the COVID-19 situation is something that SEAT Spain has also addressed since the outbreak of the pandemic. The company has highlighted the importance of co-responsibility in the home environment when working from home which it emphasised on International Women’s Day with a specially organised talk [17].
  • Issues relating to ethnic diversity and refugees, German company Brose Group has piloted the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in several plants across Germany.  At the start of 2016, the company integrated 20 refugees and asylum seekers in three locations, 60 in total, in order to give them an opportunity to gain experience and employment. The company will also provide support in the form of counselling, German speaking courses, and trained sponsors to support employees in their integration process [18]. In the UK, Rolls Royce has established an African and Caribbean Professional Network (ACPN) which connects employees from African and Caribbean cultures [19].
  • Disability issues, Renault Groupe have pioneered the inclusion of people with disabilities into the employee infrastructure [20]. The company has partnered with the NGO Handicap International to deliver an initiative called ‘DuoDay’ that pairs a person with a disability with a professional in order to help breakdown and address stigmas across the automotive sector [21].
  • Sexual orientation, Rolls Royce has established PRISM, a group that engages LGBT+ employees [22]

Some progress has been made in terms of improving the inclusivity of the Automotive sector, evidenced by changes in the workforce profile over the last 50 years. However, there is clearly a long way to go before the sector achieves gender parity and overcomes other diversity issues.

Having a clear focus on these issues will not only help make the sector fully inclusive but by expanding the talent pool will help tackle the significant skills challenges facing the sector. 
[1] Science, technology, engineering and mathematics
[2] Women in the Automotive Industry: Quick Take | Catalyst​​​
[3] Gender Equality in STEM is possible. These countries prove it’, Big Think, March 2019 Growing number of women in stem - Big Think ​​​​
[4] Women in Science and Technology’, Eurostat, February 2019, Women in science and technology - Products Eurostat News - Eurostat (
[5] Engineering UK report 2018​​​​​​
[6] Empowering Gender Equality in Automotive’, The Institute of the Motor Industry, published 2018, updated 2020
[8] COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects’, McKinsey Global Institute, 2020, COVID-19 impact on women and gender equality | McKinsey​​​​​
[12] Study: Workplace diversity can help the bottom line’, MIT New, Peter Dizikes, October 2014, Study: Workplace diversity can help the bottom line | MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology
[13] Attracting and Retaining Talent in the Automotive Industry. The role for the employer brand and employee experience in the battle for talent’, Weber Shandwick, 2018, Attracting-and-Retaining-Talent-in-the-Auto-Industry.pdf (
[14] Automotive industry slow to embrace D&I-related changes – report | Automotive Industry Interview | just-auto (​​​​​
[15] Encouraging women into engineering careers’, Topcon Ireland, Encouraging women into engineering careers | Topcon Positioning Systems, Inc.​​​​
[16] Girls Day (
[17] 2020 Annual Report. 2020 Reasons to believe’ , SEAT es, 2020 others-annual_report_2020_full-NA-NA-NA-march-2021.pdf (​​​​​​
[18] Brose: Employee program to integrate refugees in Franconia | Automotive World
[19] Employee networks – Rolls-Royce (
[20] Groupe Renault is committed to promoting diversity - Groupe Renault​​​​​
[21] Promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in the company - Groupe Renault​​​​
[22] Employee networks – Rolls-Royce (
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