The electric vehicle industry, one that continues to transform mobility, can often feel exclusive as it primarily employs and serves men. However, there are pioneers from marginalized groups who have created space for other innovators to further develop and broaden the electric vehicle industry.
According to automotive and mobility analyst Lisa Whalen, as of May 2022, 47% of women are interested in owning an EV whereas 53% of men are interested. This number has increased significantly since the early aughts when the only people who owned—or who were interested in owning EVs—were white males in their mid-20s to early 30s. Whalen also gathered data on: Generation, Community, Ethnicity, and Political Party. Speaking solely in terms of gender, women’s interest in EVs have certainly shifted, and now more and more women are having a say in what type of EV they or their family purchases. Women speaking up about EV purchases is just one area in which the EV gender gap has shifted; women are also making strides in the EV industry overall.
As March is National Women’s History Month, Drive Electric Tennessee would like to recognize the female trailblazers who have been part of ushering women’s perspectives into the EV industry.
#1. Erika Myers | Electric Vehicle Love
To be frank, it’s difficult to narrow Erika Myers’s contributions down to one organization. Myers has been actively pursuing decarbonizing transportation for over 13 years. Electric Vehicle Love is her passion project, but it coincides with many of her other projects, too. She’s been the Acting Director of the Global E-Mobility at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and most recently, she’s been serving as the Executive Director of CharIN, an organization focused on accelerating EV transitions. While working at the WRI, Myers focused on research and action across ten international offices, aiming to decarbonize transportation globally. Myers has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the 2022 Remarkable Women in Transport by the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative. She has been a part of a number of efforts and initiatives that help highlight the need for EVs. You can check out her research project here, which pretty much sums up the importance of women pioneering the EV industry: “Why the Electric Vehicle Industry Needs More Women.”
#2: Ashley Horvat, Amy Hillman, Emmaline Pohnl, and Julie Peacock | Women of Electric Vehicles (WEVs)
In March 2013 at Rum Club in Portland, OR, four women bonded over their commitment to women in executive leadership—especially in the EV industry. The humble beginnings of their idea morphed into a desire to help women easily enter the EV industry and further grow in their careers without debilitating limitations due to gender. In 2015, WEV held their first annual event, which served as the launching pad for their Roadmap conference. This conference has been held in Portland annually since 2015. Even more, since 2013, WEV has grown to an international network of over 700 women in EV industry leadership positions. The WEV mission is to offer a space for women to create community and share resources while becoming better leaders and innovators in the EV space. WEV hopes to “elEVate” women while prioritizing a necessary shift to electric transportation. You can read more about WEV and their fight to get more EVs on the road here: https://www.womenofevs.com/
#3 Chelsea Sexton | Plug In America
Plug In America aided in the transition to the nearly 3 million EVs on the road possible, in large part thanks to co-founder Chelsea Sexton. Sexton has been working towards electrification since age 17 when she inadvertently landed a job at a dealership while purchasing her first car. On her first day, the finance manager told her about a project that General Motors was working on. It was the mid-1990s, and GM was keen on developing the first modern EV. Sexton, already interested in electrification, joined the team of other young 20-somethings. The team did everything from training, DMV EV registration, customer relations, and marketing incentives. Then, production stopped in 2001, which meant Sexton was suddenly unemployed. Sexton quickly moved into consulting, and then co-founded Plug in America. Most recently, her concern is with electrifying trucks, buses, and airplanes while also encouraging bike infrastructure and public transit. If you want to learn more about Sexton’s work with Plug In America, take a listen to their podcast interview with their fearless leader, Chelsea.
#4 Dr. Shelley Francis | EV Hybrid Noire
Dr. Shelley Francis is the co-founder and director of EV Hybrid Noire, the largest network of diverse electric drivers. Dr. Francis’s background is in medicine and public health, which she has used to frame her endeavors with EV Noire. Her work at EV Noire has been informed by her experience with medicine, and she uses her knowledge to push for electrification as a means of ensuring public health safety. Not only does Dr. Francis promote clean transportation through education and outreach, but EV Noire is an award-winning, multicultural organization that encourages EV adoption and awareness in diverse communities. EV Hybrid Noire is a membership-based organization, and it is home to members across the US, Canada, and across the globe. To read more about the work Dr. Francis does at EV Noire, check out their website here.
#5 Linda Zhang | Ford
Born in China, Linda Zhang moved to the US when she was eight years old, and later proceeded to follow in her father’s footsteps by taking a job at Ford. She has been with Ford for over 26 years, and most recently, she has been noted as the main engineer for the iconic electric Ford F-150. In October 2021, Zhang made the cover of Time Magazine for her work on electrifying the beloved truck all while ensuring the EV version still can maintain its tough image. “When you take a look at EVs and how it compares to a petrol vehicle, it’s actually a much simpler vehicle with a lot [fewer] moving parts, and it’s a lot more fun to drive. And as women learn more about it, and it becomes more commonplace, then there will be more women adapting to EVs,” she said in a BBC Podcast.
This small sampling of women trailblazers does not account for the many more women working within the EV industry who continue to show up and work for a cause they feel strongly about. However, the five women highlighted here are indicative of the EV industry’s evolution, emphasizing how members from underrepresented communities continue to ensure their voices are heard in what was once a male-dominated field. Though there is still work to be done, the women showcased here have worked to make the EV industry more inclusive.