Behind Women Drive Electric


George Thurman (left) and Michelle Breffitt (right)

George Thurman and Michelle Breffitt co-founded Women Drive Electric to create a welcoming online community of female EV drivers and fleet professionals to discuss all subjects relating to electric vehicles in a safe and supportive environment. Here they discuss the barriers females can come across when buying an EV, and how to create more gender balance in the fleet sector

Please could you tell us a little about your backgrounds and experience?

George: My journey to electric began when my husband Adam opened EV Bodyshops in Enfield; a future ready site for EV accident repair. It was rather a wild ride to start with, but I soon loved the cleanness of both the drive and the feel of electric vehicles. I hated filling up with fuel, so it was all a bonus for me. I am now business development manager for the Bodyshop and love my role in the industry; it’s a fresh, innovative space and the people are collaborative and open. I have plenty of access to different makes and models and enjoy sharing my thoughts and answering questions from our community.
My background is customer service with 20 years in the skies and it still runs through the heart of everything I do. Our members feel like customers, and I treat them as such, passionate about assisting them and solving problems where we can.

Michelle: I have worked in automotive since leaving school at 15, which is scarily over 25 (shhh) years ago. My dad was a panel beater by trade and with driving cars being a sign of freedom for me, it was inevitable I ended up in the industry.

Starting at what was then Lex Commercial Trucks in Derby, I moved into a sales administration then vehicle rental role at a Car dealership in Burton, then moved into fleet sales at Pentagon Vauxhall in Derby. Desperate to earn money and knowing no qualifications meant no progression, I completed NVQs while working and regularly covered the showroom reception at weekends to get some retail front of house experience and extra pennies as a 19 year old living on my own. My determination paid off in the form of a van sales position in the business centre, selling cars and vans to local companies, learning even more about leasing and the various funding options for businesses, as well as the tax advantages.
As the internet was becoming a thing, I was asked to work alongside the marketing director to set up an ‘internet sales department’ and help with updating the website with used stock and new vehicle offers. This exploded as we were very early adopters, and using the marketing budget from traditional press and radio, a new department was born that Vauxhall called a ‘Business Development Centre’. We took control over the marketing and could see the resulting sales enquiries and website traffic which led us to implement enquiry and appointment tracking for the entire group’s showrooms across the Midlands and North West. This department grew to 20 staff working a sevem day rota, with enquiries and sales worth millions to the business.

I decided to leave Pentagon just before Covid in 2019 to focus on being a mum and then joined MotaClarity, which is a disability motoring website with information about the Motabiity scheme and wheelchair adapted vehicles. My role was relationship manager, looking after automotive and adaptation company clients who are partnered with us for advertising and PR.

What was the thinking behind setting up Women Drive Electric and what’s its purpose?

Both: Purely to provide help and support in the beginning and somewhere safe to show off your wheels! We found our passion was often dulled down in some groups, so we created our own community. Our uniqueness lies in the way we focussed on getting EV Industry knowledgeable females into the group too so questions were answered with experience and knowledge, rather than opinions and conjecture. Its purpose is to project a positive factual experience of living with an EV while having some fun in a safe community.
What makes females ideal fleet managers when tasked with the move to electrification?  

Both: Female fleet managers coming into the role actually achieve better results – they are more open to change; good at communication and they build relationships well. Juggling a matrix management style, much of this transition relies upon lots of different stakeholders, and when looking at mobility, this becomes more of an HR reward and benefit remit.
What are some of the barriers that female consumers come across when buying an electric vehicle?

Both: It’s mainly the Russian roulette of how they will be welcomed in a showroom or for a test drive. There are some fantastic sales people in car dealerships but unfortunately there are  too many terrible stories of being ignored in favour of a male partner, not being respected as a decision maker and the expectation that we only care about the colour of a car. To add to this, mainstream car dealerships can be challenging to get a test drive if you are using a salary sacrifice or getting a company car that won’t be ordered through them – this is a problem for men and women alike though.
Transport/fleet is still quite a male dominated industry – how can there be more gender balance in the sector and why is this important?

Both: The way to get gender balance is to work with our male allies to create a constant inclusive and respectful workplace. This will then attract more females to join fleet/automotive and tip the scales to a more equal balance.
Flexible working conditions such as hybrid or flexi-time are useful for any parent especially but non-automotive experience and transferable skills need to be thought about when job descriptions or ads are being written. Even where job ads are placed can impact how many male and female applicants are received.
Women are perfect for fleet roles; we are often more open to change, comfortable asking for help, can solve problems, communicate effectively to build relationships, and we juggle stressful situations; all aspects females do naturally.
What is the future plans you have for Women Drive Electric?

Both: Women Drive Electric are striving to be the main source of female led content and advice for electric vehicles. We plan to build a website to cover every aspect of EV Life, steering the consumer through the stages of choosing, acquiring and living with an EV.  
We eventually want to include resources to assist with charging, energy suppliers, solar energy and technology. Even if you already have an EV, we are there for you with insurance, recovery, servicing and accident repair solutions. We want to achieve all of this alongside growing our warm and welcoming community of women on Facebook, which is now over 2,000 and growing daily.