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Women in the automotive world

“This is a man’s world/ but it would be nothing…without a woman”,

By Thami Masemola on 25 Aug 2021
“This is a man’s world/ but it would be nothing…without a woman”, belted out James Brown, the undisputed godfather of soul. A controversial 1966 hit record that may as well had been written for the automotive world. It’s all so easy to celebrate the men who have shaped the automotive industry since its inception in the early 1900s. However, it is entirely possible that the industry would not exist at all, or at least would not look the way it does, without the priceless input of the countless unsung women involved.

  Mary Anderson

Think of  Mary Anderson, who patented the windscreen wipers back in 1903 (US Patent Number 743 801), which the Patents Office then called a “Window-cleaning device”. Although she never profited from it, it did change the way the automobile operated fundamentally, because from then on, it could be operated even in the rain.  Bertha Benz is of course known mainly because her husband Karl is credited with inventing the first car. But it was the brave Mrs Benz who actually marketed this invention by driving it from German town to town, demonstrating how it works and generally exposing it to the public. In those days only a handful of people trusted the car over the horse and carriage combo and her 106km drive dispelled those fears. She remains the first woman to ever drive a car.

Bertha Benz

  Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek, an American scientist, invented Kevlar fibres in 1964. If that word sounds familiar it’s because you may have heard it on an American cop movie or TV series. Kevlar is the substance they use on bulletproof vests. It’s also used in the construction of parts for certain high performance cars, because it is extremely light and strong at the same time. It is of course, used in many other industries as well.

Over the years countless others have come into the automotive industry and helped reshape it. Cars are for everyone and women contribute to the success of the motor industry a great deal. They are managers, cleaners, marketers, sales people, technicians, spray painters, PR practitioners, journalists, IT workers, call centre agents, receptionists, designers, drivers, mechanics etc etc. Basically any job that men do. Not many are ever mentioned, let alone celebrated. This is unfortunate because there is a wide scope of achievement awaiting women who are interested in the industry. They just need a chance. They deserve it.
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