Shifting gears: Women in the auto industry
Elaine Bannon at the media launch of the Ford Edge
There's no denying the automotive industry is male-dominated. But the industry is shifting gears. Women are entering the field in record numbers and taking leadership roles in everything from manufacturing to design. Here are a few women leading the pack and breaking down barriers in the auto world.
Elaine Bannon is at the helm of one of Ford's most pivotal products — the Edge. She's the chief nameplate engineer of the Edge, responsible for leading her team from the concept stages to the development, manufacturing, and vehicle launch. She's been at Ford for more than 25 years, following in her brother and uncle's footsteps who are both engineers. "Honestly, I never thought about doing anything else," Bannon says. "It was always with me to work in auto on vehicles so I went to engineering school and started working for Ford at the age of 20."
But it was a guy's world back then. "The percentage of men is quite high," she continues. "When I was going to engineering school it was similar. Initially, you do realize there are not a lot of women around, but over time that has changed. After awhile you don't really think about it. You look at each person and who they are individually and I don't think about gender. For me, it's been about the vehicles and my relationships with my coworkers."
Bannon has faced her share of hurdles, especially in her personal life. Her 43-year-old husband, who also worked in chassis and vehicle engineering at Ford, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in 2006. "In 2007, he went from using a cane to a walker to a wheel chair," she says. "There was a period of time where I didn't sleep. It got very difficult. During the last week, he said I wanted to say goodbye to my son, who was five at the time, and later he looked at me and said 'hon, I've had enough," and he let go. It was tough."
Despite the pain, Bannon persevered through her difficulties and the launch of the Edge in 2007. "Doing what I do at work and the tremendous people I have working around me helped me keep going," she says. "What I went through made me really respect the relationships in my life. It's made me a better person and a better leader, ironically because it was such a horrible experience. I believe when I look at the products we're launching now, they wouldn't have been as great had I not gone through that experience."
A 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake sold for $1.3 million. Do you think classic cars were made better than modern rides?
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- Yes, the quality of cars from the 1960s and '70s is the best
- No, modern technology makes cars better today
- Maybe, it's hard to say since most Canadians get a new car every 10 years