What Kunii means for Formula E

The appointment of Hideko Kunii to Honda’s board is to be applauded – not because Kunii is the first woman to sit at the top table of the Japanese car maker, but because her new position has been awarded based on merit. No one wants women bumped into power positions because of quotas: it’s more demeaning than failing to consider them at all.

As far as we’re concerned here at Current E, it’s a simple equation: in a world where half of the population is female, promotions to the highest echelons of the business world ought, if solely by the law of averages, to be more commonly awarded women.

In fact, other car companies are already on the same path, not least GM, which is now headed by Mary Barra. The technology industry has been going the same way (Yahoo, IBM, HP, Frontier Communications), as have engineering firms (Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, CH2M Hill).  

Progress is being made towards equality. Today, 23 of the top jobs at Fortune 500 companies are filled by women, three times the number a decade ago. Yet, that is still just 23 out of 500; there is clearly still work to be done.

In straddling the traditionally male dominated worlds of motorsports and technology, and with change as its key mantra, you might well imagine that Formula E would be taking great strides towards female equality.

If it is, it’s keeping it well hidden so far. Every visible leadership role to date has been filled by men, from the heads of PR and marketing at organiser FEH to those leading the construction of the Spark-Renault racing car to every one of the 10 team principals. True, Katherine Legge is part of the ‘Driver’s Club’ – but she’s the sole female driver in a club of 24, and she’s not guaranteed so much as an interview, never mind a race seat.

It’s an odd state of affairs. Formula E aims to drive up sales of electric cars by making them aspirational. It aims to make them aspirational by showing them going very fast in city settings where EVs are most useable and by engaging new audiences in a new form of entertainment.

However, if the sport appears to be the sort of sausage-fest that traditional motorsports are, how many women will bother even watching the sport, much less interact with it or adopt its core messaging? Will women like Kunii and Barra see something of value in the sport, or will they see just another group of boys and their toys?

How can you effect real change if you’re happy with the status quo – and how can you help car companies sell more products by ignoring half of all potential customers?

Ahead of International Women’s Day next week and the first race in September, it’s our hope that strong words and stronger actions on the subject will be forthcoming from Formula E.

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