This industry pioneer explains how she’s helping to bring new blood into the automotive sector

Who or what inspired you to work in automotive?

I first started working in the sector when I was about eight years old. My dad ran a home tuning service, and I would take bookings on the phone and occasionally accompany him and help to fill in the service check sheets. Years later, when Perrys Motor Group came to my university to find recruits for a graduate management trainee scheme, I jumped at the chance.

Once you knew you wanted to work in automotive, what path did you take to make it happen?

After I completed my degree in business studies, I was employed as a Quality Assurance Manager at the same Perrys Motor Group dealership in Doncaster where I had undertaken an internship. It was invaluable experience, because at a young age I was given management responsibility and tasked with handling some complex customer complaints. I also put in place best practice HR, marketing and customer service processes.

You’ve had a varied career so far, including roles at Ford and PwC. Have you been able to transfer any skills?

All of my roles have required very similar skills, and I’m actually still using knowledge about marketing, finance, economics, HR and law that I gained from my business studies degree and my HR Development postgrad.

The key skills are respecting, understanding, communicating with and motivating people from all backgrounds, different walks of life and at all levels in organisations. Also, it’s very important to have good numeracy skills to be able to analyse data effectively and to be able to write and speak in a succinct but compelling way.

You’ve worked in Germany and Spain. What have you learned that applies to working life in the UK?

I worked for Ford in Germany, and the biggest difference was that everyone went home no later than 4.30pm for familienzeit (family time). There was also a lot more emphasis on health, wellbeing and preventing illness. In the UK, there is not only a culture of presenteeism but also of going above and beyond the call of duty. I was definitely guilty of that, and I found it hard to balance that with family life. We need to learn that good productivity comes from healthy workers who can spend time with their families.

You founded the UK Automotive 30% Club. What’s the idea behind that, where are you now and what are the next steps?

When I returned to the UK, I started to teach on the retail automotive management degree programmes at Loughborough University. I was surprised to find that very few women took the courses.

Later, I started delivering speeches in schools through the Speakers for Schools charity. I found that even though girls didn’t have the automotive sector on their career radars at all, at the end of my talks I would be approached by several who wanted to find out more.

I decided that it was time to create a campaign to close the gender gap across the automotive industry. I set out to build a network of progressive CEOs who agreed that a better gender balance would help to achieve better business performance and address the fact that the automotive sector is seen as a gender-segregated career choice.

The UK Automotive 30% Club now has 33 members working to have 30% of key roles at their firms filled by women by 2030. We are collaborating on programmes to encourage young women to consider the sector. Our next steps include launching the UK Automotive 30% Club OutReach network, as part of which employees from CEOs to apprentices will visit schools to encourage youngsters to join the sector.

Is there anything you would do differently in your career with the benefit of hindsight?

I would have taken on a role with profit and loss responsibility at an earlier stage. Such experience is critical for progressing up the career ladder or for setting up your own business.

Julia Muir is CEO of Gaia Innovation and founder of the UK Automotive 30% Club

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