Erin Baker on Top Women in EV 2024: The women who are driving emobility forward

As you read this, I’ll be dashing between Coventry, Birmingham, London and Kent, speaking at one of many events the automotive industry is hosting to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 (what was a day has become a week, and will no doubt be a month by next year). One of the most significant events in the calendar this week is Top Women in EV, hosted in collaboration with Auto Trader at Tesla’s shiny new hub in Birmingham (I would say, this, of course, being Editorial Director of Auto Trader, but bear with me).

Tesla is a great partner for this event, because the broadening of the car industry to include charging companies, e-mobility services, battery factories, circular-economy consultancies and sustainability tech firms has automatically opened up the employment pipeline to more women. No longer do you need to be an engineer, or a mechanic, or a CAD designer, or enjoy working on a factory production line, to feel welcome in the heartlands of our industry. Nowadays, you might have zero interest in cars, but have a passion for sourcing sustainable wood veneers, or be fascinated by research into bamboo-derived fake leather, or love creating apps that can integrate multiple public charging networks with a car’s software.

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Such is the pace of this expansion, that Tesla, once the greatest disruptor of the last 100 years in the auto landscape, is now starting to look like the grand old dame of the car world, its toes nipped at every day by a multitude of new brands coming to market, most with serious Government financial backing, predominantly from China but also the likes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Who foresaw how quickly Tesla would start to look like a legacy car brand? And yet, still it innovates and surprises, and still, for most consumers, it’s the most palatable EV car brand going, thanks to its supercharger network (and helped by a couple of chunky price drops last year).

What Tesla introduced us to, however, beyond electric cars, was the possibility of gender equality sooner than expected, because Elon Musk created a car company from the tech world, which is a gender-neutral nirvana compared with the automotive industry. Women are already sitting at the top tables in tech, and have been for quite some time, and women aren’t, and have never been, treated as second-rate customers in the tech retail environment. 

Have you ever walked into an Apple store and thought: “Ugh, it’s a bit off-puttingly male in here; I feel like a freak because I’m a woman”? No, of course not: the entire shop, from the white-washed walls and bleached wood, to the soft lighting and genius bar, are set up to appeal to men and women equally. There might be a bit of techsplaining by assistants, but there’s no mansplaining: men and women are equally bamboozled by someone explaining the difference between a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro. There has never been a sense that you might not get it because you’re a woman, or a suggestion you might need to go home and consult your husband before making a decision (which happened to my mum, in front of me, just one year ago in a major franchised dealer for a German car brand. She’s been single for 40 years and is a former national newspaper editor with significant disposable income).

So, Top Women in EV resonates more for me than any other International Women’s Day event in my calendar this year, partly because electric cars are where the consumer gender gap remains the largest, but more so because, although few will appreciate the significance for women of our host for the day, Tesla is the OEM partner. Like him or loathe him, Elon Musk opened up the world of cars to embrace the world of tech, with its 21st-century blank canvas that replaced so many of the 20th-century prejudices that have dogged automotive, not least gender inequality. We are all the richer for that development.

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