Time was, when a successful career in the motor industry was almost entirely a male preserve. Not any longer – not at our dealerships, at least.
Progress for career women in the car industry has been pretty patchy since the United Nations first adopted 8 March as International Women’s Day back in the 1970s. But at Mercedes-Benz South West, we’re bucking the trend.
Let’s take our Plymouth Dealership as an example…
A quarter of the 74 staff at the Derriford showroom are women, among them car mechanics, drivers and managers – each with their own inspiring stories to tell.
Take Technician Harley Mortlock, who used to be a hairdresser until she swapped fixing hair for fixing cars. And Transaction Manager Louise Kidger, whose degree saw her doing work for brands such as Ralph Lauren, until she discovered a love of motors. And then there’s Helen Stidwell, who visited the Plymouth showroom to look at cars with her husband and ended up getting a job as a driver!
All three women have the same message to others who’d like a career in the industry but believe there’s no prospect of progression: “Go for it!”
Harley, 22, has just completed her apprenticeship to become the first female Technician at the branch. Her route to becoming a Mercedes-Benz engineer was an unusual one: “I always wanted to be a mechanic, but my mum thought I’d never be able to get a job in a garage because I’m a female, so I became a qualified hairdresser instead.
“I was doing hairdressing for three or four years, but I wasn’t happy, so I became a full-time student at Plymouth City College and got my qualifications as a mechanic.” When she spotted a vacancy at Mercedes-Benz in Plymouth, she applied – but assumed the job would go to a man: “The fact that I got the job shows that times are changing,” she said.
So, is she glad she made the career switch? “Yes, definitely. I really enjoy the job and it’s an excellent career. My dad was a mechanic and I used to ‘help’ him when I was little – I’m not sure ‘help’ is the right word – but this was always my first career choice.”
For Helen, it was a case of ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’. Having been a van driver for a delivery firm for 13 years, she asked if there were any vacancies when she and her husband were looking for a new car: “Three days later, they rang and said: ‘Can you come up for an interview?’ I started the next day as the dealership’s first ever female passenger car driver.”
Helen collects cars for the showroom and drives new cars to customers: “What a job! I love it! Every day is different and what I really enjoy is the rapport with the customers. Of course, we’ve all had the jokes about how women can’t drive, and women can’t park. But there’s no question that the barriers are coming down, and younger people just don’t think about it. The biggest issue now is self-confidence. It’s their lack of self-confidence that’s holding women back and preventing them from going for these sorts of jobs.”
Louise, meanwhile, studied at the London College of Fashion and designed window displays at major stores in Oxford Street. But when she moved to Plymouth, she found careers for women in the private sector were limited. She signed up with a local temp agency and got some work with Mercedes-Benz South West’s pop-up shops at Drake Circus.
Since then, Louise’s career has blossomed. She became Sales Executive at Smart, part of the Mercedes-Benz group, and then Sales Executive at Mercedes-Benz before being appointed the firm’s first female Transaction Manager in December: “Like Harley, I didn’t think there would be a career for me in the car industry, because I’m a woman. And it was hard to begin with. Customers ask particularly tough questions, checking what you know about the cars, and you have to know all the answers.
“I’m really embracing the management side of things and my approach is perhaps a little different to the traditional forceful management style in the motor trade.” Louise has paved the way for others to follow because since her appointment, the group has promoted a second female Transaction Manager, Shakira Hunt, at the Exeter dealership.
Plymouth General manager, Lewis Cudlipp, says it makes sense to make the most of the different approaches and skills that women can bring: “The motor trade is traditionally male-dominated, and that isn’t a good thing. Bringing a car in for a service or coming in to make a potentially big purchase, that can be quite intimidating for customers. Having women in senior positions or working as technicians is welcomed by customers because it’s a nicer environment for them to come into, it’s a bit softer.”
The Plymouth Mercedes-Benz showroom is one of four in the South West group and Lewis added: “We’re currently looking to take on more staff across the group and gender doesn’t come into it. Attitude does. Skill-set does. There is an appetite for the industry to change, to be more diverse, and that has been a challenge in the past. But there’s no excuse today. I’m very pleased that we’re among those leading the way in making the change.”
Written by Laura Joint, www.laurajoint.co.uk
See how you can make a change. Visit our careers page to see our current vacancies.
To find out more about International Women’s Day, visit the Official Website.