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The shocking truth of Citroën’s new CEO: a woman and British

26 May 2014

Most employees of car companies are men – no surprise there. And the further you look up the echelons in those companies, the fewer women there are.

Which is why the announcement this month that Linda Jackson is to become chief executive of Citroën, just months after Mary Barra took the reins at General Motors, was so heartening.

Ms Jackson’s appointment was made possible by a man, Carlos Tavares, chief executive of PSA Peugeot Citroën. And this is the important lesson, tweeted about last week by the WISH, the support network for women who work in social housing.

It read: “In industries and sectors dominated by men, such as construction and housing, it is even more important that men are enlisted to actively support women’s careers.”

Someone called Joanne Vickers replied to that tweet and took us straight back to cars: “It is the same in the automotive industry. I am lucky to have two wonderful male mentors, but that’s not the case for all.” She doesn’t make cars, which you could argue is likely to be more male-dominated because of the nature of the work – she is a manager at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

If you are (or know someone who is) a woman working in a car company, what is your experience?

Is Ms Jackson an anomaly, or the shape of things to come?

Car companies are not just bastions of maleness – they are fiercely fought over as symbols of national pride and closely identified with countries that gave birth to them. It is tough being a woman in a car company; but a foreigner?

I remember being amazed when Carlos Ghosn was put in charge of Nissan, and that was a very long time ago. And I am still amazed when a Brit is put in charge of a French car company. Maybe that is Ms Jackson’s real achievement – to be put in charge of a French car company when she is English.

Top tips for getting ahead in the car industry

Start early. Linda Jackson’s official biography says she was born in 1958 and started with MG Rover in 1977. Getting your career going at 19 always helps.

Get to grips with the numbers. Lots of women climb the pole in the car industry through the finance function, as they do in many other male-dominated industries. Ms Jackson has held finance director and financial controller roles at Rover and Citroën.

● Stick with it. Ms Jackson has never worked in any other industry, so that’s 35 years in cars. (Mary Barra worked at GM for 33 years before she became chief executive.)

● Get an MBA. (Ms Jackson’s is from the University of Warwick and Ms Barra’s is from Stanford business school.) That will help you study other industries, meet people from them and get you socialised so you don’t become a petrolhead.

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