Over the last few years, the question of equality within the workplace has been brought up. Equality of pay, career paths, job placements and treatment have been asked, particularly in traditionally male-dominated working environments. One of these sectors is the Automotive Industry, so I wanted to ask Joana Fidalgo, a Shining Light in the industry, what her thoughts on equality are?
Joana comes from Portugal but was smitten with England during a visit, so she decided to make the country home and seek a career in the automotive industry. She had fallen in love with Manufacturing very early in her career, where she has always been driven by wanting to have more of a voice in shaping the products she cherished. Joana has worked in varied roles within the Automotive Industry for different global OEMs, from former PSA to BMW and then Jaguar Land Rover.
Her various roles have been from Manufacturing Quality to test-driving prototype vehicles. Joana now works in a future-facing role in Strategy definition. I think you can safely say Joana is equipped to inform us of equality within the male-dominated sector, and you will find her answers informative.
FM: What did you want to be as a child and at school?
Joana: I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be as a child; I always thought I would be an artist or a writer. I loved Literature and wasn’t super fond of Maths at first. It was only when I did a vocational test at 16 and was told I shouldn’t be an engineer that I decided to take it as a challenge.
FM: When did you discover your love of cars?
Joana: I remember searching car forums when I was 15. I didn’t know much about the mechanical side, but I loved how they could be an extension of one’s personality. I remember going around town and taking photos of cars I liked on my flip phone, much to my friends’ bewilderment. Then, when I was 16, I started riding motorbikes, which changed everything. I fell in love with the noises, the smells, the freedom and the community that came with it.
FM: Did you play with cars growing up?
Joana: Does the Barbie car count? It’s funny because I used to play primarily with dolls, but I remember vividly how much I wanted to play with Hot Wheels. I’m sure that if I had asked my parents, they wouldn’t have had an issue with it, but as a child, I thought it would be weird to ask because those were “boy’s toys” – which looking back, is quite sad.
FM: What was your first car?
Joana: I started by driving my mum’s VW Polo GTi, which in Portugal is a 1.4, but I loved it. The first car I owned was a MINI Cooper D.
What made you choose the career you are now in?
It was two-fold. First, growing up as an introverted kid, bikes and cars provided me with a safe platform where I could come out of my shell, make friends and explore the world, so I always felt compelled to give back to the industry. I wanted other people to enjoy their cars as much as I did. Then, second, there was a curiosity aspect: I wanted to learn more about vehicles, push myself out of my comfort zone, and try to do something I had never thought I could do before. Plus, I got to prove the lady in the vocational test centre wrong.
FM: What was your pathway into the role?
Joana: I did a degree in Automotive Engineering, followed by a Masters in Motorsport Engineering. Years later, I returned to school for a master’s in Business Management part-time while working full-time.
FM: Did you find it a struggle to break into the Automotive industry?
Joana: I didn’t find many barriers to getting into the industry, but I’ve found my challenges within it. The industry is doing a great job of recruiting women in, but then doesn’t offer them the support after they’ve made it, hence why the number of women in positions further up the management ladder is not increasing at the same rate. I think this is part of the broader problem.
FM: Have you faced any prejudice being a woman in a mainly male environment? If so, how was this dealt with?
Joana: Yes, and it took me years to realise the extent. I had older colleagues who did not trust my skills and preferred to wait to deal with one of my male colleagues, despite me being the specialist in the subject. At a job interview, I once was told I was lying and that I couldn’t possibly be an engineer because of my manicured hands. And then, there are different layers of sexual harassment, too.
Insight is terrific, and I regret much of what I put up with. Most of those happened within a Manufacturing environment and, for many years, as a young female professional, I thought they were just the things I had to put up with if I wanted to work in the industry I loved. On my first day on the job, I was asked if I wanted to be treated like a girl or “one of the guys”, so I assumed I had to put on a brave face and endure these things if I wanted to be part of the team. Management wasn’t always equipped to support accordingly, but I think that is changing. I feel safer and supported at my current workplace, but I know this is not everyone’s experience in the industry.
FM: Have you experienced equality with pay and promotion?
Joana: As far as I’ve known, yes. I feel like my managers and peers have recognised my hard work.
FM: What changes have you seen with Equality in the automotive industry?
Joana: I feel that workplaces have become safer and more inclusive spaces. One of the most significant changes has been to think that there are so many amazing women in senior positions doing incredible work whom I can look up to.
FM: Tell me about your most rewarding achievements in your roles?
Joana: I look back to all the cars I worked in very fondly. I have been part of some launches of vehicles I am very proud of. Knowing that I had a say in how they drive is rewarding.
FM: Where do you see the car industry going in the next five years?
Joana: The industry has seen unprecedented disruption in the past few years, which can be unsettling! I think we will see a massive change in how we approach the concept of cars and mobility, and while I am a petrolhead at heart, I am also very excited to see how the industry will respond to these challenges. Some of the innovation and new tech being developed at the moment is seriously impressive, and I can’t wait to see how we use them.
FM: Would you recommend the Automotive industry to girls looking for a career?
Joana:Absolutely. A survey showed that women account for something like 60% of new car purchases in the US, so we need to ensure we have women’s input in creating the product. Despite the challenges, the balance is extremely positive – I love what I do. Also, it is a fascinating and rewarding industry.
FM: Do you see yourself staying in the industry?
Joana: Definitely. Even if I decided to go for a career change at some point in my life, I think I’d always have to find a way to stay connected to the industry.
I thanked Joana for her time speaking to Fueler and wished her well in what I believe will be a remarkable career. It would be great to hear from females working in the Automotive sector and learn about their experiences.