Women are the key to unlocking the potential of the EV industry, but have been largely overlooked — not just as consumers, but as valued contributors to this growing field. Women influence over 80% of vehicle purchasing decisions in the US, but only purchase 30% of EVs. Furthermore, they comprise less than 25% of the automotive workforce. I sat down and talked to some of the leading women in the field to talk about these issues and how we can change them.
I interviewed Erika Myers, Global Senior Manager at the World Resources Institute and creator of the blog EVLove; Dr. Shelley Francis, co-founder of EVHybridNoire and Managing Partner of EVNoire; Sabrina Cerquera, who promotes transportation electrification efforts in cities nationwide for Forth; and Amy Hillman, Vice President of Sales at OpConnect and co-founder of the Women of EVs group.
These four women will also be featured in a roundtable webinar hosted by Forth on February 17.
Joe Wachunas: Erika, you’ve been writing extensively about this lack of gender diversity in the EV workforce and among new car buyers. Tell us about the current situation as you see it.
Yeah, it’s pretty depressing when you break down the numbers of new EV car buyers. Only 30% of EV purchases today are made by women, even though they purchase more than 50% of new cars. Also, women influence 80% of the car buying decisions in a household, and on top of that there are also more women who have driver’s licenses in the United States, so the fact that the rates of women buying EVs is so much lower than men is not a great trend.
Part of my theory is that this happens because less than 25% of the automotive workforce is comprised of women. An enlightening Deloitte report about gender in the automotive industry found that the majority of women surveyed wish they had never started a career in the industry. There’s a question on the survey that asks “have you seen positive changes in the industry in attitudes towards female professionals in the last five years?” — and 35% of the women said it actually got worse during the last five years. Compare this to the 64% of men who said that it’s better.
I think we need to diversify the industry and get women’s perspective. What are the things that women care about and how do we infuse those into electric vehicles? GM’s going all electric and they have less than 25% of women making up their workforce. EVs are an opportunity to not only reinvent cars, but also increase gender diversity in the industry. We can recalibrate the automotive workforce, which is a huge employer in the United States, and I see this as a co-benefit to the EV transition.
Dr. Francis, tell us how you got involved in EVs.
I’ve always loved cars. My dad and I used to go to auto shows, and it was a bonding thing for us. Fast forward to my adult life and I was doing research in environmental public health and health disparities and I knew about many of the environmental justice issues around transportation, particularly for individuals from and who live in frontline communities, and decided to get an electric vehicle. This electric vehicle was really the thing that changed my career path because it exposed me to other people in the space, who are having conversations and building a community for electric transportation, and it also allowed me to see some glaring gaps in the space.
One of the immediate things that I noticed was that the field wasn’t very diverse and the conversations that I would be in around electric vehicles were really driven by early adopters. I wanted to do something differently and create space for more diverse voices, because I knew a few people of color that drove electric vehicles and we wanted to have a space to share experiences and say “hey, how do we get other family members and friends in these.” In our work, our research supports the fact that the “messengers matter,” so it is critically important to have more diverse voices at the table and leading the conversation to expose African American, LatinX, Tribal communities to this technology and have messengers reflective of these and more communities sharing their experiences. I felt like as part of like my public health and just altruistic spirit I wanted to do something impactful in a small way, so this passion and interest grew into a 501C3 and then a consulting business to help meet the gaps around best practices in e-mobility diversity, equity and inclusion, and engaging communities from all different backgrounds.
Amy — why did you help co-found the group Women of EVs?
Women of EVs began in 2012 because there were only four women working in the EV industry in Oregon and we thought support was needed. We often saw things differently (than the men) at conferences and meetings and we wanted more women in the industry for support. The first EV Roadmap conference I went to only had 3 women present and it was apparent that we saw car purchasing and EVs differently. For instance, the men largely thought the cars would sell themselves because of “torque” and wanted to market that way and the few women felt differently.
Now Women of EVs has hundreds of women with really strong chapters founded in Sacramento, DC, Denver, and growing. It is free to join and all women working in the EV industry are encouraged to join us. We work to support one another and engage with women to join the industry and excel. It is an exciting and fulfilling sector of cleantech/automotive and there is a great opportunity for women in this space.
Sabrina, you’re just starting your career in electric transportation — tell us what drew you to it
I am the daughter of an immigrant car mechanic. I hadn’t thought about that until recently, but my dad’s a mechanic and I’m now working within the automotive industry. Which has me thinking a lot about workplace development and workers rights in the auto industry as we’re transitioning to electric.
I went to school for undergrad for political science and environmental studies. As part of my education, I conducted air quality sampling and measured what was in diesel exhaust. The results were wild to me. I was like, “wow, okay, this is what I’m breathing in?” I’d never realized how much toxicity was put into the air by internal combustion engines. That work really informed my desire to get into this sector.
One of my goals is to highlight and elevate youth voices in electric transportation. My generation is pushing and fighting hard at the intersection of climate change, gender inequality, and all these things. I want to amplify these voices and say that we need to bring more people on earlier into the auto industry and tell them “don’t think you’ll go into that later in life, you could start now, let’s do it now, and let’s grow your career right now.”
Dr. Francis, could you tell us about your experience as a woman in this industry, about your work to promote minority women at EVNoire and EVHybridNoire.
I can’t talk about my experience as a woman without talking about my experience as a black or African American woman in this space. There’s not a lot of us. The ones that are in this space we’ve tried to get connected and form a community, so that we can share opportunities and provide a sounding board and a safe space to encourage each other. We share job or training opportunities, so I mean that’s something that’s positive.
At our companies, we are facilitating programs to get more Black, Latinx, and people of color into engineering programs, the sciences via STEAM/STEM programs, and really show them that, hey, this is a cool space to work in. But part of the challenge is that young people need to see folks that look like them that are reflective of their communities in these positions (in e-mobility roles), so that they know that there’s a career path for them in this sector.
It’s important to our organization to move beyond consumerism; we want to create a space and opportunity for Black, Latinx, Tribal community members, rural along with all communities to take advantage of economic and workforce development opportunities associated with multi-modal electrification, including electric vehicles. I think there are definitely opportunities to change that narrative and provide education, training, mentorship programs, scholarships for women and individuals from African American, Latinx communities, and those other frontline communities that have disproportionately borne the burden of the impact of transportation emissions to transition into these fields.
What are some things that would help women have a more even playing field in the auto sector?
Erika Myers: Don’t get me started on employment issues like health care and maternity leave.
Amy Hillman: Yeah, I mean, I tell people I didn’t get one dollar or one day (of paid maternity leave) when I had my kid and they’re shocked.
Erika Myers: It’s insane we do not have mandatory paid maternity leave and paternity leave.
Shelley Francis: Yes, I mean in this day and age, compared to all the other developed countries.
Amy Hillman: I think this is an important message to bring up to employers. If you don’t have workplace friendly policies you’re not going to get the younger generation to work for you.
Erika Myers: I think that this is an important equalizing force. If you have maternity and paternity leave, they’re the same amount, then that diminishes the employers’ bias towards men. And also there needs to be the expectation that the men will take paternity leave. I’ve heard some men say that they have it, but they’re expected not to take it.
Erika, how do you think we can increase the number of women buying EVs?
There’s a complete dearth of gender-related research on EVs right now. I don’t think that enough research has really been done in this space, so nobody really knows and we need to figure it out as soon as possible. There is just so much work that needs to be done and I’d love to see more women getting engaged in this field and making that point, because just one person saying that is not going to turn the tide.
The conversation continues! Join these incredible Women of EVs for a roundtable webinar discussion on February 17 at 6pm PST.