International Women's Day 2022: An Interview with Nicola Thompson
To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, we’re catching up with some of the most inspiring women across the automotive industry.
The International Women’s Day 2021 theme is #ChooseToChallenge and we want to find out what that means for some of the influential women within the industry while celebrating their achievements and successes.
Today, we caught up with Nicola Thompson who works for the Automotive 30% Club as Manager of the Inspiring Super-Network.
Nicola has been in the automotive industry for 26 years and worked for some of the most well-known brands across the industry including Vauxhall Motors. For the past 5 years, Nicola has worked for the Automotive 30% Club, which is a voluntary network that aims to achieve a better gender balance within the automotive industry.
Read on to discover more about the fantastic work Nicola does and find out who her female role models are and what #ChooseToChallenge means for her.
Would you be able to start with a little introduction to who you are and the role you have within the automotive industry?
Working for the Automotive 30% Club, I am the Manager of the Inspiring Super-Network. This involves project management of the Club’s events including the annual conference, Inspiring Automotive Women Day, Inspiring Automotive Women Awards and the Inspiring E-zine. I also manage the Inspiring Super-Network, bringing together women from across the automotive industry to discuss issues, support each other and ultimately work together to create the right environment for women to reach their full potential.
We LOVE the work Automotive 30% Club do – can you give our readers an insight into the purpose of the group and its achievements?
The Automotive 30% Club, powered by the social enterprise company Gaia Innovation Ltd, is a voluntary network of MDs and CEOs from UK based automotive manufacturing, retailing and supplier companies. The network was founded by Julia Muir, CEO of Gaia Innovation Ltd, with the purpose of achieving a better gender balance within the automotive industry, and with the aim of filling at least 30% of key leadership positions in the member organisations with diverse women by 2030 through a “30 by 30” strategy.
The 30% target is to set a direction of travel to enable progress to be measured; something that is essential in such an objective-driven business. It is not a quota and we do not endorse positive discrimination. Members simply share an enthusiasm to improve the gender balance in the sector, in order to improve the image of the industry, serve the customer base better, enhance company performance, and make the workplace an equitable environment by removing unconscious bias and obstacles that prevent talented women progressing up the career ladder.
Established in 2016 with 6 members, we now have 44 members – a number that is continually growing.
What does a typical day in your job role look like?
My working life has changed quite a lot since the first lockdown last year, not only in terms of now working from home full-time but also in the ways we now run our events. Over the past year, we have run all our events virtually and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
I love the fact that my days are so varied, from writing proposals to speaking to members of the Inspiring Super-Network to writing briefs for E-Zine articles, to designing social media posts, to the management of our various projects. For example, Inspiring Automotive Women Day involves liaising with the sponsor company, designing the content of the event, designing the social media content, writing volunteer briefing documents, writing PR and social media documents for member companies to follow, briefing volunteers, hosting the events, and so much more.
Lockdown also means that I am juggling my work commitments along with managing my 2 children who are currently at home doing live school lessons. Alexandra who is 13 and Will who is 11, manage independently most of the time, but there is still a need sometimes to assist them with their schoolwork. Being able to work flexible hours has meant that I am able to do this.
I do ensure that at lunchtime I go for walk, with my dog Tilly, to make sure I have a break from my laptop and get some fresh air.
How long have you worked in the automotive industry?
A long long time. I have had a varied and interesting career in this industry. I have now worked within the industry for 26 years having started at Perrys Motor Sales as a Marketing Manager when I left university. I then joined Wilson & Co as a Group Marketing Manager before joining Vauxhall Motors as a Regional Marketing Manager. In my role with Vauxhall, I managed over 40 Vauxhall sites from Alnwick all the way done the east of England to Nottingham, supporting them with their marketing activities and designing and running regional activities.
Following the birth of my second child, I left my role with Vauxhall Motors and took a career break for a few years. Although, I did assist in setting up an independent used car and service operation in Sheffield during this time.
I have been working for the Automotive 30% Club for the past 5 years.
Have you always wanted to work in the automotive industry, or did you start out in another sector?
Upon leaving university and looking for a marketing job, I applied for a lot of different positions. I would not say I dreamed of working in the automotive industry, but what became apparent in my interview with Perrys Motor Sales was the variety that would be involved in the marketing role.
What progress do you think has been made within the automotive industry concerning gender equality?
When I started out in the industry there were very very few women in managerial positions, in particular in departments such as sales, service, finance and marketing. There were no female General Managers.
As a woman then, I am sure I suffered from Imposter Syndrome, and as a result felt I had to work harder, more hours to prove to myself and those around me that I had earnt the right to be in the position I had.
Whilst I have no doubt that this experience contributes to shaping me into the person I am today, I wouldn’t want other women to feel the way I did at times. Thankfully, things have changed and continue to improve.
Gender equality has improved over the past 20-30 years. The appointments of women CEO /MD in manufacturers and retailer groups and in operational functions such as General Managers, Aftersales Managers and Sales Managers, will only help in ensuring that gender equality continues to be a business objective.
The current pandemic had highlighted to business leaders that working from home and flexible working patterns does not affect the quality or quantity of employee outputs. These working patterns, hopefully, will continue, as offering such working patterns will open up opportunities to diverse women with experience and sought-after skills to access careers which they can do in conjunction with their personal commitments.
We need to ensure that the gender pay gap continues to be highlighted. This is not just an automotive issue; it exists in all sectors.
What advice would you give young women who are wanting to pursue a career within the automotive industry?
Give it a go! Apprenticeships, graduate, and trainee positions are a fantastic route into a career in this industry. This sector allows employees to develop their careers, reach their full potential and enjoy their work.
Which female inspires you the most and why?
Without a doubt, my grandma, who whilst is no longer with us, showed me how to be an independent woman. She was a businesswoman who ran her own successful business, whilst looking after my grandad who could not work due to illness. She was a formidable person who people respected, listened too, and admired. In many ways, she was a woman before her time.
This year’s IWD theme is #ChooseToChallenge. What does that mean for you?
To me, #ChooseToChallenge is about standing up against gender bias, stereotyping and discrimination. It is not just about big actions but having the courage to stand up to people who say and do the wrong thing.