Dealers have an “opportunity gap”, says Clare Freemantle, sales and marketing director at Harwoods

By Staff
5 Min Read

To mark International Women’s Day, Clare Freemantle, sales & marketing director at Harwoods, talked to AM about the need to get more women into the automotive retail industry.

According to a report by the Institute of the Motor Industry, 81% of the automotive industry is represented by men. For Clare Freemantle, however, this is not an indication of a skills gap, but an opportunity gap.

Early Test Drive In Automotive 

Freemantle came into the industry by chance at 18 years old. She started very early as her interest in cars helped her secure a role as a fleet service administrator at Volkswagen in Camberley.

Discussing what drew her into a career in motor retail, Freemantle says the thing she loves most about the industry is that it’s a great place to build a career – if you’re willing to work hard.

 “Even if you’re not particularly academic, there is a lot of opportunity for people to excel in the automotive industry regardless of your skill set.”

Gendered Potholes Along The Way

Unfortunately, like many women, her climb to the top was not without its challenges and Freemantle acknowledges the struggles she has had and about what women have to put up with.

“As a woman in the automotive industry, it can often mean choosing between putting up with behaviour you’re not comfortable with or speaking up and potentially risk being alienated by your peers.”

“In general, the industry is very male orientated, which means that there are fewer female managers, and hence fewer females to promote, which can make you feel like you’re less likely to be promoted.“

“Worst of all, as a woman, you’re constantly having to deal with assumptions that you’re less senior than you are which can be really demotivating.” 

Great Career – Needing Some Modification

Despite this, Freemantle believes that the automotive industry is a great industry for women to work in, but that it needs to change to get more women excited about the prospect of working in it.

“I think the best way to get more women into the industry is by increasing awareness of current changes and exposing more people to the female leaders that exist to see that it is achievable.

“Also, it’s vital to look at the current expectations and assumptions people have. It should be expected that women can have any role alongside men and people need to stop assuming that women can’t do a certain role just because of their gender.”

She also believes in her mission to make sure women have it easier than she did. “I am very passionate about empowering women to pursue any role without giving any headspace to assumptions or stigmas that might hold them back.

“Shifting the mindset of women in the industry should be our focus, rather than solely focusing on the number of women currently working in the industry.” 

Tips For Women In Automotive 

Clare believes that women should never feel the need to apologise for being a woman, adding, “It’s also vital that women don’t play down their femininity. Be confident, be congruent and lean into the power of the role that you’re applying for. “

She adds that women should lean into the strengths they have rather than focusing on their weaknesses. “Focus on what you can bring and don’t try and change who you are to fit in with another gender,” she says.

She acknowledges that there is still a long way to go, but it’s also worth looking at how far we’ve come so far, evidenced by a 2021 Cornwall College study which showed that female mechanics now account for around 10% of the UK workforce – a rise of 125% since 2011.

Freemantle points to that statistic as demonstrating that the automotive industry is beaming with opportunity, and that whatever your background is, there are opportunities for you to shine, grow and excel in it.


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