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A woman in the automotive design world: normal or not? The myth of being a female car designer.

21.11.2016

Crédit Photo : © Denis Meunier (002)

 

A woman in the automotive design world: normal or not? The myth of being a female car designer.

Even today, few female designers decide to embrace the automotive industry, why?

Do cars still project a masculine bias or is it because the industrial world as a whole doesn’t seem appealing enough for women? Both elements probably play a role.

What is clear for the automotive industry however, is that this situation does not reflect the influence women have in buying a car. Women control 65% of consumer spending overall and women make the final decision on the purchase of more than 60% of cars.

When I learned in May that I was awarded Woman of the Year 2016 by the organization WAVE (Women and Vehicles in Europe), I was really surprised.  First, that such an award exists - why not the equivalent for men? – and secondly, that this would be of interest to anyone. I considered it unnecessary compared to the real issues in our society.

Then came the requests for interviews and speaking at conferences, as if I was a role model or had achieved something special. This helped me realize that the award really could have a meaning. The questions posed by journalists about the place of women in the car industry seemed naïve, somewhat sexist, that I suddenly realized that my day to day life at Renault was far from the prejudices and clichés that still exist in the society, including in the media.

Large companies have probably evolved quicker in this regard than the rest of society. They are more attuned to the importance of diversity not only because they have endorsed social responsibility programs but also because they recognize the business opportunity. Their customers and their services need to benefit from the skills and diversity of all employees, no matter their sex or origin, in order to compete effectively.

This is reflected in my day to day experience as a car designer at Renault and the opportunities that have been presented to me based on my skills as a designer. My career has never been governed nor influenced by the fact that I am a woman. Not all car designers covered the walls of their bedroom in their childhood with sketches and posters of cars and dreamt about being car designers. For me and many others, it began with an interest in shapes, light, shadows, colours and patterns. An interest in the meaning of why and what and above all, a love of creation. Applying these interests to cars – one of the most complex products products ever made – makes for a fascinating career.

Are these interests particularly male or female? Not at all.

That is one of the keys to attracting women to the automotive industry in general and to car design in particular. Communicating about how many diverse interests, skills and competencies are required to make the cars of today and to realize the cars of the future. This is a very exciting time for the automotive industry as it adapts to changes in motoring and lifestyles with the emergence of autonomous vehicles and increased connectivity. Who knows then what the cars of tomorrow will be like and how our perceptions of them will change.

If these awards and coming together at events such as the Women’s Forum today can inspire more women to think about a career in the car industry, not just in design but also in marketing, sales and engineering then I am delighted to be held up as a role model for younger women.

Last September, I received another prize as part of the “25 Leading Women in the European automotive industry” by Automotive News Europe. The ending speech of the awards ceremony closed with the line “Congratulations to all of you. But we hope this prize will disappear one day”. I do too. Let’s make it happen.

 

Biography

After studying engineering design in her native Sweden, Agneta Dahlgren moved to France in 1990 to round off her Industrial Design studies at Compiègne’s University of Technology (UTC). She has lived in France ever since, working exclusively for Renault which offered her an internship placement opportunity in 1991.

Agneta Dahlgren went on to join the Corporate Design’s concept car department where she gained a more prospective overview which she applied from 2000 as Project Leader working on the design of several vehicles, from heavy trucks (within the framework of a partnership between Renault and Volvo Trucks) to electric city cars. She held this position for almost 10 years.

It wasn’t long before her cross-functional vision, her ability to take technical constraints into account, her aptitude for negotiation and her work on the electric Renault ZOE were noticed.

When Laurens van den Acker took over as SVP, Renault Corporate Design in 2009 with the intention of creating a new identity for the brand, he appointed Agneta Dahlgren as Design Director for the strategically-important C Segment. The new Renault Mégane, which was introduced at the beginning of 2016, and the new Renault Scénic, which is due to go on sale in October 2016, were both designed under her leadership.

 

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