Harley Earl was a man ahead of his time. Way back in 1950, he became the first automotive designer to hire women. But it wasn’t an “equality in the workplace” kind of decision – Earl’s “Damsels of Design” were brought onboard for their design talents.
The reasoning behind his hiring strategy was simple. He believed that women possessed unique insight and excellent attention to detail. He knew these types of talents where indispensable when it came to designing interiors, suggesting colors and selecting fabrics.
The women of automotive design are in the spotlight once again. GM has recently honored these trail blazers, along with the women who are currently making a difference in the industry at the Museum of the City of New York. This new generation of female designers include Kimberly Wu at Honda, Kerrin Liang of Hyundai, Michelle Christensen at Acura and Christine Park of Cadillac. It also gave rise to discussions regarding role of women in auto design and why there’s still a shortage in the industry today.
“This issue about why there are so few women is an omnipresent matter,” said Imre Molnar, dean of the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. “The industry is changing slowly but significantly.”
So why is it such a challenge to tempt women into the industry? According to the experts, it’s because fewer women than men are into cars, so designing them isn’t that appealing. To back up that statement, of the 15 to 18 people who graduate from Center for Creative Studies’s transportation-design program each year, only two or three are women. You’ll find the same numbers at Art Center for Design in Pasadena, California, where one in 10 graduates is a woman.
The question is how is this issue overcome? “Arguably the best way to do it is to create a culture internally where women can do very well and thrive and prosper,” Molnar said. “That way it would feed on itself, and more women would be attracted to it.”