“When I went to school, we had been three women out of 120 college students finding out mechanical engineering,” says Dr Astrid Fontaine.
“Who do you have got in an organization that is engineering pushed? It’s individuals who have studied science, expertise, maths, engineering – and these had been topics up to now that primarily boys tended to review.”
Dr Fontaine is a board member at Bentley, the Volkswagen-owned British luxurious carmaker. She is attempting to clarify to me why senior feminine executives like her are nonetheless a relative rarity within the automobile business, regardless that ladies make up an more and more giant proportion of the market – and within the UK alone personal some 35% of the automobiles on the street.
She can also be setting out why she thinks the disaster within the business sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic might show to be a catalyst for the creation of a extra numerous workforce.
During her 25-year profession, Dr Fontaine has frolicked at Daimler and Porsche, in addition to in academia in China and the United States. The government appointments agency Inclusive Boards ranks her as one of many 100 most influential ladies within the engineering sector.
Now at Bentley, as board member in command of “People, Digitalisation and IT”, she finds herself overseeing makes an attempt to construct a extra inclusive workforce. Last 12 months, there have been indicators of progress: the corporate took on 93 trainees, of whom 31 had been feminine – a file for the enterprise. But that was earlier than the pandemic took maintain.
Like different carmakers, Bentley was badly affected by the lockdown, which compelled it to close its manufacturing unit in Crewe for seven weeks, and ship employees residence. It later introduced ahead plans to put off 1,000 staff, or roughly 1 / 4 of its workforce.
Yet Dr Fontaine insists that the cuts – involving giant numbers of voluntary redundancies – is not going to truly hamper long-term efforts to enhance range. Indeed, she thinks the modifications in working patterns compelled on firms by the disaster might reap vital advantages.
“I feel what we’re seeing here’s a change in generations. I feel it is quite a chance now to look ahead,” she says.
“This alternative to work remotely, collaborating on digital platforms – it removes any form of obstacles concerning the place you might be positioned; it removes the obstacles created when, for instance, you need to take care of youngsters or your loved ones.
“You might be working from residence, whereas doing that as nicely – so your multi-tasking alternatives and adaptability improve tenfold. And I feel that is why the setting will probably be a lot extra numerous!
“The expertise that girls convey… up to now possibly they weren’t prepared to convey it ahead as a result of that they had too many different issues to take care of.”
All this comes at a time when, in accordance with Dr Fontaine, the business as a complete is already altering in methods that can enchantment to a broader workforce.
“In the previous it was pushed very a lot by mechanical engineering and design,” she explains.
“But now the business is totally into the subject of electrification and digitalisation.
“So, you want system builders, abilities in social media… and on this world of recent abilities we’re on the lookout for, we discover a wider pool of feminine candidates.”
Given the challenges confronted by different senior ladies in male-dominated industries, it is maybe stunning that when requested about her personal profession, Dr Fontaine has few complaints about obstacles being put in her method.
“Maybe I used to be merely fortunate,” she says.
“I discovered the alternative – there have been those who had been serving to me, that had been mentoring, that had been giving recommendation, that had been giving sincere suggestions. I discovered folks had been supportive.”
But she agrees that there’s a mindset inside the business that should change.
“We must create consciousness about unconscious bias – the place folks have, in all probability unknowingly, a bent to group collectively amongst folks which are related,” she says.
“However, I feel we have all seen throughout this disaster that the profit comes from grouping along with folks which are completely different from you, to convey completely different opinions to the desk and hearken to them.
“So that is one of many main steps we are attempting to encourage – making a range of individuals, as an alternative of everybody being simply the identical.”