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Narrowing the automotive gender gap in style ahead of International Women’s Day.

Narrowing the automotive gender gap in style ahead of International Women’s Day.

Victoria Halton wouldn’t say she’s “obsessed” with the motor industry. But the fact she remembers the date of her wedding because it was the year the double-plate change was introduced to Ireland suggests otherwise.

Having recently become one of the most senior women working in a technical role in the Irish motor trade, Halton is a trailblazer in every sense.

As the world gears up to celebrate International Women’s Day on Tuesday, much is rightly made of the lack of female representation in the upper echelons of the male-dominated automotive industry.

Halton, 40, from Drogheda, Co Louth, is the newly appointed Head of Group Technical Services for Volkswagen Group Ireland. She oversees a team of technicians working across six brands, including Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT, CUPRA, Volkswagen Commercial and ŠKODA.

It’s a role that sees her responsible for around 530,000 of the estimated 2.3m vehicles on Irish roads. Halton readily acknowledges the responsibility riding on her shoulders. But, she is happy to be a role model to other women looking to follow in her footsteps.

“I consider myself extremely lucky to have this job,” she says “There’s a massive amount of responsibility because, ultimately, these machines are bought by people who put their lives in your hands.”

An inspiration for women and young people looking to get ahead in a male-dominated industry, Halton began her high-flying career in 2013 in the modest surrounds of a small car dealership in Kells, Co Meath.

Prior to getting her big break she held what she calls a “good, pensionable job” with a bank – one she quickly realised wasn’t for her.  “My mother was incredibly proud when I landed that job,” she says “But one day they put a letter on my desk informing me I was due to retire in 2046. I was in my early 20s at the time and I thought, ‘I can’t do this’.”

Halton’s employer agreed to give her a year off to travel around Europe. But, if anything it solidified her resolve to find a job she was passionate about. Within days of returning home she watched The Italian Job in her local cinema. A week later, she landed her first job in the motor industry.

Having previously had her life mapped out for her by others, Halton was suddenly the master of her own destiny. Not that she planned any daring bank heists using Minis.

Under the tutelage of Michael McKeon of McKeon Motors in Kells, Co Meath, she learned to trust her instincts. After completing her “apprenticeship”, she moved to Dublin to work for the Frank Keane Group before moving to Joe Duffy where she spent seven years under the guidance of CEO and mentor Gavin Hydes.

“Gavin gave me a real understanding of the business and made sure I wasn’t pigeon holed,” says Halton “One day he asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to be a manager in sales or finance and within six weeks I was appointed as Sales Manager for SEAT and Business Manager for Porsche in their Rochestown Avenue dealership.”

Despite working her way up the corporate ladder, reminders that the motor industry still lags behind other industries were never far away. While she was treated as an equal by her male colleagues, people visiting showrooms were still inclined to hold preconceptions about female staff members.

“There was always this impression that the female in the business was either the receptionist, the host or the administration person,” says Halton “At Joe Duffy I was the only female staff member of 13. Everyone who worked there was fine with that but people visiting the showroom were genuinely surprised to see the sales manager was a woman.”

While the gender balance in Ireland’s motor trade has improved in recent years, there is still a way to go. In recent years, The Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) has been working hard to encourage more women to join the Industry.

Gillian Fanning, the first ever female SIMI President in the Society’s 100-year history says, like other male dominated industries, there is a distinct need to address gender imbalance and bias.

“While more women have joined the industry recently, the numbers employed are still comparatively small and focus on the more traditional female careers such as sales, marketing and administration,” she says “Huge changes are taking place within the automotive industry globally –  electric vehicles, autonomous driving and enhanced connectivity – all of which provide a wealth of new career opportunities.  If we want to attract more women, we have to work to create a more flexible working environment and highlight female role models.  Women are a critical yet under-represented resource and we need consumers to see females in more diverse roles within the Industry so we can break the bias of gender specific careers.”

As the automotive industry moves increasingly towards digitalisation and electrification, strong female role models will be crucial in positioning the automotive industry as a viable career option for women.

Halton, who cites President Mary Robinson and former Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg among her personal role models, is well aware of the responsibility on her shoulders.

“When you see a woman running a business the size of Facebook or being president of a country you think there’s nothing you cannot do,” she says “In her book Lean In, Sandberg talks about how women are more inclined to sit back in meetings and let men do the talking. Instead we need to lean in, speak up and be heard. There are still pay gaps between the sexes but having females in positions of power changes everything.”

Having joined Volkswagen Group Ireland in June 2015, Halton hasn’t had far to look for inspiration. Volkswagen Group Ireland Managing Director Carla Wentzel, was appointed head of the group’s Irish operation in December 2018. Previously voted the Most Influential Woman in Business and Government in her native South Africa, she is responsible for Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT, Skoda, CUPRA and Volkswagen Commercial, collectively the largest automotive company in Ireland with a combined 31% market share.

“It is very encouraging to see an increasing number of women in the motor industry,” says Wentzel “My congratulations to Vicky on her appointment. She is a role model for anyone looking to break through the glass ceiling. I firmly believe that having more women in the industry will bring a level of diversity to the workforce from which we can all benefit.”

Halton, who lives in Drogheda with wife Niamh and their three-year-old son Jamie, says having a female boss to look up to has proved inspirational. Vicky

“Carla is my first female boss so it has been very refreshing,” she says “To see her come in, stand up and be counted is hugely inspirational for me and all the women in the business.”

With her focus firmly set on making her mark in the motor industry, Halton believes technology and innovation will be key in levelling the playing field. Learning lessons from the pandemic, she hopes to institute augmented reality techniques that will let technicians carry out remote assessments rather than wasting unnecessary time on the road. Taking the industry out of the grease covered workshops and into the 21st century could also have a positive impact on the gender balance.

“The motor industry is embracing electrification and digitalisation and these things offer exciting opportunities for reducing our carbon footprint,” says Halton “We are in the process of upskilling our technicians so they can carry out the highly skilled work that in turn reduces expenses, miles travelled and downtime for customers.

Robert Guy, Director of Group Aftersales for Volkswagen Group Ireland, says Halton will be judged on her results rather than her gender. “Vicky’s contacts book is like a Who’s Who of the Irish car businesses,” he says “This role demands someone who is dynamic by nature. It’s like conducting an orchestra. You have to manage a technical team and get the job done to the satisfaction of the customer, the brand and the factory whether that is in Germany, Spain or anywhere else.”

International Women’s Takes place on Tuesday, March 8. For more information, visit


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