Driven to succeed in a male-dominated industry
Women Engineers Former Formula 1 driver Susie Wolff is spearheading an initiative to inspire and develop female talent in male-dominated environments — and that includes automotive engineering.
Racing driver Susie Wolff knows what it's like to excel in a male-dominated sport. After competing in Formula 3 and the German DTM series, she moved into Formula 1 and was signed by Williams, first as a development driver and then as a test driver. At the British Grand Prix in 2014, she became the first woman to take part in a Formula 1 race weekend in 22 years.
Now Wolff has shifted gears and retired from competitive racing to face a new challenge: inspiring and developing female talent in male-dominated environments and professions with an initiative called Dare to be Different. In motorsport, that includes opening up opportunities for women in the pit-stop, not just the driver's seat. “It's about so much more than finding the next female Formula 1 driver,” says Wolff. “Some of the best engineers in the world are in the Formula 1 paddock; and there are many opportunities there. But we do have to break that pre-conception among young girls that it's a 'boy's role'.”
Building the world
Wolff believes that more young women are entering automotive engineering; but, she admits, current numbers are low. “I heard a great phrase recently,” she says. “'Engineers build our world'. Without engineers we don't have roads, we don't have bridges, we don't have buildings. Yet there is a pre-conception among society that engineering and mathematics is for boys.”
And anyway, it's in the best interests of the industry to find the best talent. “Women make up 50 per cent of the population,” she says. “Take Formula 1, which is very performance-based. If it wants to have the best engineers in the world building its cars, it's going to have to look at that other 50 per cent of the population. That's just simple mathematics.”
Follow your passion
For women thinking about a career in auto engineering she has this advice: “First of all, find which part of the industry you are passionate about. In Formula 1 particularly but, I think, generally, we are living in a world of specialists. Then simply go for it! Of course there will be challenges along the way, but it's easier to be more successful if you find your passion first.”
Wolff found her passion at an early age, first in karting and then — as a professional — in the Formula Renault UK Championship. “My parents never made me believe that I was different to my brother or that there were things I couldn't achieve,” she says. “I credit them for allowing me to follow my passion and never letting me think it was something 'unusual'.”
Along the track she has encountered barriers, but she never let them stand in her way. “I'm a dreamer, but I'm also a realist,” she says. “I wouldn't have tried to make it in Formula 1 if I didn't believe it was possible.” And now, says Wolff, with Dare to be Different, she wants to give something back to the sport that has given so much to her.