The exterior of Acura’s newest sports car, the NSX, is designed by a woman, Michelle Christensen — a rarity in an industry where most women are employed decorating the interior of the car. The design of the exterior is considered by many to be the defining aspect of a car, and the vast majority of those assignments go to men. Experts say however that automakers are not willfully excluding women from the design department, in fact, they’re scrambling to hire them. The problem is rather a dearth of qualified female candidates.
At one of the nation’s top schools for automotive design, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California, the most recent graduating class had fifteen students, only one of whom was a woman. “It’s not because we don’t want to admit women,” says Stewart Reed, who heads the transportation department at the school. “It’s exposure and culture and women don’t seem to think of automotive design when applying to art school.”
According to Reed, the majority of students at the school were exposed to cars early, and he speculates that gender norms play a role in discouraging young girls’ interest in vehicles. As for the carmakers, themselves, he says, “The notion of, ‘oh, she’s just a woman,’ is long gone.”
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