French-born Claire Martin has spent her whole career at Renault, in the male-dominated auto industry, implementing change and innovation initiatives. Today Vice President of CSR for the group, she is also the Director of the Renault Foundation. Invited to speak at the Women’s Forum in Deauville, Claire talks to Myriam Crété-O’Carroll about her commitment to road safety, mobility and getting women’s voices heard in shaping the future of the automotive business.
What was your first contact with the auto industry?
When I was eighteen I worked in Germany, in a company that was a supplier to the auto industry. I was on the shop floor, mainly with Turkish women, and I was horrified by the situation as they were totally oppressed by the first level management. I then studied psycho-sociology and, after graduating from the Paris Business School, I was called by someone working at Renault. That’s how I entered the company I still work for today.
What was your first role at Renault?
I was to be an internal consultant in change management.
I worked in the engineering department and I knew nothing about how a car was run!
I had my driving licence but I didn’t own a car at that time. I was biking to work and the engineers were laughing at me. The Japanese industry was a threat to the European industry at that time and my role was to help the team understand that they would have to move on and change their minds.
How were you welcomed by men at this stage?
I was a young blonde girl in a department where there were 200 men and almost no women. Some did not take me seriously and some were actually pretty aggressive. As soon as I started to really progress in my work and help the organisation shift, they felt a kind of fear because I was not only here to follow the past but to show them another way.
So the role was not an easy one.
What was your path to where you are today at the Renault Foundation?
I spent 10 years in change management research, where I submitted several breakthrough research reports on organisation alliances and international partnerships. Then spent 10 years in communication. I was in charge of corporate communication and I have spent the last five years establishing the corporate social responsibility department and the foundation.
What are the priorities of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Department?
We have four main pillars in our CSR strategy and they are very linked to our core business and competencies, which are sustainable mobility for all and road safety. This is working on a shift in terms of a business model to provide mobility for the poor through electric vehicles. Mobility is very often what I call a missing link in all policies in the fight against poverty. It is a fundamental need but not always considered as such. So we’re partnering with the United Nations on a road safety programme that aims to halve the number of road deaths on earth in the coming decade.
Our two other priorities are diversity and education and the Renault Foundation is an educational branch of our CSR policy.
Can you give us some examples of educational programmes you develop within the Renault Foundation?
I’m co-developing brand new educational programmes with academies. For instance 10 years ago we launched the first master’s programme in transportation and sustainable mobility. It’s corporate philanthropy on education, so we show academies where they should build new competencies. Then they come with their own knowledge and expertise.
Renault is known to support women, hence your presence at the Women’s Forum. What women’s initiatives do you implement?
At Renault we have 17.4% women within the work force and 17% in the management position. Although the industry is not women friendly and the image of the current industry is really masculine, we are not bad. Since we were a partner of the Women’s Forum in 2006, we have started to organise the « [email protected] » Network and have just reached the 4000th member of these mixed multi-categories. By mixed I mean male and female.
What is the mission of the « [email protected] » ?
We focus on business areas or engineering issues in order to think and to work on how women can bring additional value to the business or how a car will be designed and with which features.
One of the last cars we launched was invented, built and put on the road, for the first time in our history, by a more equal team with 47% of women.
As an agent of change, what drives you?
I remain someone who would never accept inequalities. I have two daughters and working and developing solidarity among women in a male environment like we have at Renault and seeing young women feel more free and more engaged is a wonderful reward.
Picture – Credit : Sébastien Millier