If someone had told me I’d end up working in the automotive industry 10 years ago I would have laughed. I grew up in a family that was entirely disinterested in cars – as long as it was German*, and white in colour, we were good to go. My dad and brother never tinkered with cars, my mother wanted them parked as far out of sight as possible, and to this day my husband refuses to upgrade his 2005 (white) VW Polo.
At University, I generally steered far away from Engineers – they seemed like a different species – and the words ‘machinery’ and ‘assembly lines’ put me to sleep. I thought I’d end up working in FMCG, or in the creative industries, or in fashion…But never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up in automotive, at an OEM, working next to an assembly line.
But I love working in automotive – I have never had as much job satisfaction, which let’s be real = life satisfaction – as I’ve had over the last 8 years at Ford.
Here’s the thing though, I am still not particularly interested in cars (although I have come to learn about the merits of machinery and assembly lines – and gotten to quite like a few engineers). I can barely tell you what a diff ratio is, nor how a turbocharger works. I don’t find driving around a race track anything but terrifying. In my mind, a car is a car and although I have spent countless hours trying to absorb technical information, I’m afraid it’s in one ear and out the other. Yet that hasn’t stopped me from progressing in my career.
The automotive industry is about so much more than cars. It is complex and nuanced. It can take you from an air conditioned office to an engine-oil covered workshop to boardrooms in countries you’ve only ever dreamed of – sometimes all in 24 hours. It is in some ways 10 steps ahead and in others 10 steps behind. And the scale of it is awe-inspiring. Providing freedom of movement to thousands of people not only in South Africa, but around the world, matters. Trying to do the right thing by our customers – for whom buying a car is usually the second most expensive purchase they are likely to make after a house – matters. I could go on, but the point is that job satisfaction can be found in challenging work that matters and an environment where you feel valued and rewarded. The automotive industry in South Africa delivers on that. Sure, your colleagues may look at you funny when you don’t quite know that the ‘thing’ that measures distance is called an odometer (yes this word eluded me in a senior management meeting one day), but you can earn their respect by understanding the bigger picture, by breaking down stereotypes and delivering results. In fact, I would argue that caring less about the product and more about what it represents in daily life is a strength rather than a weakness.
I find this industry endlessly fascinating, and I urge all the women that may be put off by what they think working in autos will be like to give it a try. We need more of us that care less about cars and more about the people driving them.
*views not my own, but – still – those of my parents