You can’t get much more blokey than Top Gear. As Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May trade petrol-head banter in their ill-fitting leisure wear, you’re reminded that fast cars are like garden sheds and golf-club bars – male refuges from the modern world.
But times are changing fast. The industry has become far more female-friendly, says Institute of Motor Industry (IMI) careers development manager Emily Hakansson, and the battle has started to get that message across.
IMI has been putting out free teaching resources for about five years. The latest round includes Women in Motorsport, materials for a classroom debate about whether girls should be doing more in Formula 1 than wearing tight t-shirts and handing out champagne.
An introductory presentation recalls comments from legendary racing driver Sir Stirling Moss last year, that “women do not have the mental aptitude” for F1, and those of the sport’s boss Bernie Ecclestone when asked about female racing driver Danica Patrick back in 2005: “Women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances”.
Those attitudes belong to a past generation, says Hakansson, and even Ecclestone has said recently that Patrick would be well able to cope with F1. The IMI resource shows how women are making inroads into motorsport, from Scottish F1 development driver Susie Wolff to BBC presenter Suzi Perry. The under-appreciated history of female drivers – Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first woman to complete a F1 Grand Prix, back in 1958 – is also highlighted.
But a perception problem still exists among girls, concedes Hakansson, that cars exist in a world of dirty workshops and grouchy foremen, rather than one of revolutionary design and international go-getters.
“The industry knows we need more women,” she says. “Now we just need more girls applying to get into the industry.”