Female trailblazers of the auto industry
According to the Women's Engineering Society (WES), only 15% of UK engineering undergraduates are women, and only 11% of the engineering work force is female. This is why it's all the more important to actively encourage women to get into engineering.
Confused.com has teamed up with WES to celebrate the achievements of inspirational female engineers in the auto industry.Explore
Hon. Gabrielle Margaret Ariana Borthwick (1866 - 1952)
Mechanic, teacher and a founder of the Society of Women Motor Drivers
Before World War I, Borthwick set up a series of garages. She then ran vehicle maintenance courses to help women contribute to the war effort.
By the time the war began, Borthwick assisted in forming the Society of Women Motor Drivers. This was created to fight for women to be taken seriously in the motoring trade, and have the same rights as its male workers
"This is a female member of aristocracy, who was expected to be married by the age of 30. Instead she discovered a love for cars, opened up her own car garage business, and took part in the formation of a trade union for women in the motoring trade. Achieving all that, 100 years ago, is a huge inspiration for women in technical careers."Yasmin Ali, Chemical Engineer and WES Young Members Board Member
Cleone de Heveningham Benest (Griff) (1880 - 1963)
Mechanic, teacher and public speaker
In 1915, Benest, or Griff as she was sometimes known, opened a workshop for female motorists. This provided mechanical repair courses, as well as lectures on industrial and factory practice. These were aimed at women who wanted to become supervisors in munitions factories.
Griff joined the Women's Engineering Society, and was elected Chair in 1922. She wrote articles for The Woman Engineer journal and gave several talks on radio about engineering.
Her public speaking and press coverage meant that she was an excellent role model. As women were looking to pursue a career in engineering, her prominence at this time was key.
"Cleone de Heveningham Benest (Griff) was an inspirational and pioneering motorist and engineer, because not only did she achieve incredible things for herself, but as an entrepreneur, business owner. In the media she used her platform to support and pass on her knowledge to other women."Deborah Harris, engineer at Rolls Royce and WES Young Members Board Member
Dorothee Pullinger (1892 - 1986)
Supervisor of female munitions workers and part of a committee designed to recruit women into factories.
In World War I Pullinger was hired to work for Vickers, a large factory in Barrow-in-Furness. Here she supervised 7,000 female munitions workers and started up an apprenticeship scheme for the women.
She went on to manage 13 factories during World War II. Pullinger was the only woman on a post-war government committee, which was formed to recruit women into factories.
Pullinger was the first women to be inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame in 2012.
"Dorothee Pullinger was fortunate to have an open minded father who brought her into the engineering sector at a time when that was not common or socially accepted. 100 years on, the influence of parents on girls' career choices is still just as important."Yasmin Ali, Chemical Engineer and WES Young Members Board Member
Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling (1909 -1990)
Engineer, inventor and motor racer
Shilling devised the RAE restrictor, otherwise known as 'Shillings Orifice' she was also a keen motor racer.
During World War II, RAF pilots noticed that when their planes nose-dived the engine would flood and stall. German planes knew this and could outmanoeuvre the RAF as they used fuel-injected engines. The restrictor prevented this by limiting the maximum fuel flow to prevent flooding.
She installed them with a small team around RAF fighter stations.
"It's fantastic to share the stories of the amazing, determined and courageous female engineers who've been part of the Women's Engineering Society. Not only was Beatrice a female engineer at a time when that was even rarer than it is today, she was also a motor racer!""Yasmin Ali, Chemical Engineer and WES Young Members Board Member
Roadside repair patroller for the AA, 1929
Grace New became the first female roadside repair patroller for the AA in 1929. She was also the first official scout for the Women's Automobile and Sports Association.
"I have always loved tinkering with engines and my favourite hobby is decarbonising my friend’s machines. That is usually how I spend my Sundays. I carry a first aid kit and can render help in case of accidents. My duty will be to patrol Kingston by pass for eight hours a day and later expect to be put on other districts."Grace New
"To be Britain's first female road scout must have been terrifying and exciting at the same time. I have so much respect for the women of the past, who have paved the way for us to continue their good work."Jo Douglas, Process Scientist at British Sugar and WES Young Members Board Chair
Dr Barbara Sabey (1929 - 2013)
Fundamental in road safety development and motor racer
Sabey Received an Imperial Service Order for her unrivalled contribution to road safety in the 1980s.
Her career involved extensive research into skidding but went on to conduct a wider study of accident investigation techniques. She became the head of the accident investigation division at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory.
She was fundamental in creating many traffic-calming measures that exist today, and created the first of several surveys to test blood alcohol levels.
"Barbara's work focused on reducing road accidents. She provides a prime example of how technical careers can lead to meaningful and life-saving jobs."Yasmin Ali, Chemical Engineer and WES Young Members Board Member
Alexandra Walker (age 51)
Powertrain quality manager, Ford of Europe
Alexandra Walker has never forgotten the original role models of the WISE 1984 campaign who inspired her to pursue a career in engineering. Walker works to encourage the next generation to look at science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as a future career choice.
Her prosperous career at Ford has spanned nearly 30 years, primarily focussing on powertrains - the main component of a car that generates power. For the last 12 months, she has been the Ford Europe Powertrain Quality Manager.
Walker has spoken about careers in engineering at local schools, and visited Parliament on a number of occasions. She also spent 11 years as a WES Trustee, including five as its Honorary secretary.
As well as a mentor to a number of female engineers, she also volunteers to support a range of Ford’s STEM outreach projects. Walker is part of the judging panel for the Ford STEM Prize for female second-year university undergraduates.
Lauren Jane Robinson (age 31)
Supplier Technical Assistance (STA) Programme manager, Ford of Europe
Lauren Jane Robinson started at Ford Motor Company in 2004 as a Mechanical Electrical apprentice, she originally planned to study maths and science at university.
As a Supplier Technical Assistance (STA), her role is vital in ensuring Ford's supply base provides parts on time to achieve a successful launch.
Her favourite role was as a STA Commodity Site Engineer. She learnt about different parts of the manufacturing process and was able to offer hands on mentoring with supplier management. The role also included development and assessment of the part production processes.
Robinson found this aspect of the job extremely rewarding. She could witness first-hand the improvements the suppliers were able to make to their production facilities with her coaching and encouragement.
Laura Davies (age 27)
Engineer and Channel 4's 'Escape' contestant
Laura Davies is working at Dyson developing electric vehicles.
She also has worked on the Bloodhound SSC land speed record project, and Land Rover BAR’s 35th America cup team.
She maintains military vehicles in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers reserves.
Davies also takes part in adventure sports, like paragliding, sailing and skiing. She also featured on Channel 4’s 'Escape'. Using her knowledge of engineering, she had to escape from a hazardous environment in Iceland.
"Innovation; engineering the unknown is what advances the world we live in."Laura Davies
Caroline Carslaw (age 26)
Asset engineer and Scottish rally championship winner
After graduating from the University of Strathclyde in 2015 with a MEng in Mechanical Engineering Caroline Carslaw started working for energy company SSE the same year.
She is now an Asset Engineer for Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm. Once complete, the 588MW site will be capable of generating power to 500,000 homes.
Carslaw is a keen rally driver and motorsport enthusiast. She has actively competed in the Scottish Rally Championship for five years, winning her class twice. She also gained the title of Fastest Female Driver for three years.
"I've grown up with the sport as my dad and uncle used to compete… I've been able to use the practical side of my engineering know-how on occasions when the odd thing has gone wrong with the car… Although thankfully that's not happened too often!"Caroline Carslaw
Abbie Robison (age 21)
Junior design engineer
Abbie Robison is a Junior Design Engineer for Williams Advanced Engineering, which originated as an offshoot of Williams F1. They are famous for their work on the Jaguar CX-75, which was used in the James Bond film Spectre.
Currently she is working on a high-spec engine project as part of a larger supercar programme with Singer Vehicle Design.
They work to take skills and knowledge learned in Formula 1 and apply it to projects that vary from electric vehicles to medical devices, and many things in between.
"The automotive industry is growing and changing constantly. The possibilities to improve are endless."Abbie Robison
The Women's Engineering Society (WES) encourages women to pursue careers in engineering, science and technology. Its network provides support, inspiration and professional development to women who are interested in these fields. If you're interested in pursuing a career in any of these areas please visit www.wes.org.uk.
Thank you to Jo Douglas from the WES Young Members' Board, and to Nina Baker, WES member and creator of the Women Engineers' History site, for their help on this piece.