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Published on January 26th, 2020 | by Carolyn Fortuna


A Woman In A Man’s Car World, & Why The CleanTech Field Is So Much More Diverse

January 26th, 2020 by  

I’ve just returned from Miami and a super secret, can’t-write-about-it-’til-this coming week electric car unveiling. In a land named for flowers, I’ve been surrounded by skyscrapers and car horns blowing, construction welding and air hammers, smog hovering low over the city streets, nameless people rushing from one Important Daily Event to another. It’s been  a bit of decadence and luxury swirling with constant motion and urban built environments.

Photo by Carolyn Fortuna, CleanTechnica

At the meet-and-greet prior to the welcome dinner, I looked around at the sexes of the participants. Of 32 invited writers, I was the only female. (I had received the invitation because another writer suggested my name to the organizers.) I did see one other female present, but she was embedded with … (oops — can’t say the car company’s name right now, but I can tell you that you like their brand, luxury, speed, and European allure).

As I mingled, I realized it was another case of being a woman in a man’s world — in this case, a man’s car world.

Conversations were difficult, due to loud pulsing music and January winds off the Port of Miami that batted at the outdoor dining deck. I assessed my place in the melange and realized quickly that, rather than being an Auto Guru, I’d need to become a Cleantech Detective, snooping and eavesdropping among different conversational exchanges and interjecting all-things-sustainability to establish my credibility.

I prodded my way into one conversation and asked where the guys hailed from. When “Italy” became one response, I spoke about attending the F1 race in Monza and quietly rooting for Mercedes when surrounded by the Ferrari tifosi. From there, the conversational turn gave me a chance to site my own home location in Florida, which has vast unrealized opportunities for sustainable energy. Where are the solar panels on every roof? Why is it so difficult to find EV chargers in the state? I gave the brief synopsis of my family’s advocacy to obtain a 220 volt outlet in our HOA carport so we could fire up our Nissan LEAF at home.

Cleantech opened up interpersonal interchanges in a way that the car world just would not for a solo female.

Photo by Carolyn Fortuna/ CleanTechnica

As you probably already know about me if you’ve read my work here on CleanTechnica, I possess the gift of being a generalist. Most of the writers who were present at this super secret car international car unveiling event were car guys with very little background knowledge of cleantech. I mused to myself, How can this be? Today’s world is quickly shifting toward all-things renewable energy. Then why do so few of the attendees around me find their livelihood in writing about the quest to secure carbon-free energy, power, and transportation? There is so much about which to write!

But I continued on. Grasping an opening, I started with our common interest in (the secret company’s) electric car, acknowledging that any serious social transformation must come with lifestyle adjustments. I segued into my personal and professional interests in divestment (here, here, even here) as a powerful means to weaken the hold of fossil fuel companies.

From there, I jumped into a conversation about the Best Top 10 Car Movies Ever, pointing out that The Art of Racing in the Rain is a fabulous book with a psychological point of view, and, after seeing Ron Howard’s Rush, I sought out Niki Lauda’s autobiography, which was so much more entertaining than the film. 

When the inevitable comment came — “Consumers just don’t want to buy electric vehicles ” — I offered that it is the car makers who have the potential to market EVs as the best, most appealing, highest tech, and most desirable vehicles that are available on the market today. They succumb to the financial lure of the fossil fuel conglomerate, I argued, plus the revenue that emerges from combustion engine repairs. This is common knowledge, as Politico writes: “Groups backed by industry giants like ExxonMobil and the Koch empire are waging a state-by-state, multimillion-dollar battle to squelch utilities’ plans to build charging stations across the country.”

“Governments play a big part,” I was told, while my companion reached for another glass of red wine from the passing female server and turned to sample a passed tray of sizzling meat.

Throughout the course of the 2-day event, I inched into conversations about the multiple narratives that occur when government officials declare that they’re pushing for 100% renewable energy; the consequences of weakened environmental protections; difficulties in establishing clean energy policy across policy lines; even the pragmatic obstacles in funding a clean energy future.

Sure, I made inroads and left some of the guys with ideas to chew on and digest. But, all too often, the conversations returned to torque vs. horsepower and the best models that have ever been manufactured. There weren’t even forays about self-driving/ autonomous cars, which would’ve at least touched on the edges of sustainability.

Research Says…

Maggie Stiefvater, a New York Times best-selling author, captures the tension of women in a man’s car world.

“But language is the interpretation and distillation of facts, and the antiquated dialect of automotive culture doesn’t know how to deal with me — or any woman. It’s a language that was constructed decades ago by people who regarded cars and women as objects of desire. By a culture that didn’t think women ought to pull up chairs to any intellectual table.”

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) surveyed several meta-analyses that contradict the commonly-held myth that men and women are fundamentally different, by virtue of their genes or their upbringing or both. The researchers described that, yes, women are less embedded in networks that offer opportunities to gather vital information and garner support.  The culprit, they concluded, is the “very likely the differential conditions they face.”

Instead, the researchers suggest taking a more inquisitive approach — rejecting old scripts, seeking an evidence-based understanding of how women experience the workplace, and then creating the conditions that increase women’s prospects for success. So, the next time you’re at a work event and are looking to expand your knowledge base, consider following the 4-step approach the HBR researchers outline so you, too, can be part of the movement to fix the conditions that undermine women and reinforce gender stereotypes.

  1. Question the narrative.
  2. Generate a plausible alternative explanation.
  3. Change the context and assess the results.
  4. Promote continual learning.

It’s a truly different environment here at CleanTechnica. Look at the authors who are supported and nurtured. We come from all parts of the world. Lots of females are frequent writers (Tina Casey is, in fact, the longest tenured of us all.) Sociocultural categories aren’t divisive here — we’re celebrated for the multiple points of view we bring to cleantech topics of all kinds. We’re all lucky to be here, sharing and taking positions and extending a global knowledge base through cleantech news & commentary, focusing on solar energy, wind energy, electric cars, and other clean technologies. Thanks, Scott and Zach, for inviting us all to join the journey. 
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About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. As part of her portfolio divestment, she purchased 5 shares of Tesla stock. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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