Hello everybody! I am Flavia Fernandes and since February 2011 I work for Continental Tires. For more than 7 years I was located directly in Contidrom on the OE department. For most of the time I was there I was the Subjective Evaluator responsible for Hyundai, Kia, Skoda, Seat and a few projects from Audi and VW. In October 2018 I joined to the Nürburgring Test Center OE team. My motivation to move from Brazil to Germany was the possibility to become a Subjective Test Engineer. Before joining Continental, I have worked for General Motors and for Pirelli.
My biggest wish has always been to work with cars. Therefore I studied to become an Automotive Technician and worked as a vehicle mechanic in garages before and during my studies to be a Mechanical Engineer.
All in all, I have been in the tire business since 2005 and I am convinced that the sum of my experiences made it possible for me to be here today. As a car enthusiast myself, I find it essential to be a good Subjective Evaluator.
The work is much less glamorous than it might look like from outside. The job is not only about driving, it also includes organization of the tests and proving grounds, preparing reports and so on. From the driving side, it requires deep commitment and long-term training. You need to be mentally and physically fit to be able to do your job properly. A bad night of sleep or stress could easily deviate your focus making it extremely difficult to perform the tests on a good level.
Our goal is to find the best tire: the set of tires among a few (or many) sets that fits best on each vehicle we test, especially in the OE business. We compare different tire specifications in a blind-test type of evaluation as we usually don’t get any information about the tires construction beforehand. Normally after selecting the best tires, we have a joint test with the customer (also a subjective evaluator from the OE manufactures) to see if they agree and accept the tires. Therefore, you can imagine we have to rely on a common understanding of what is good or bad with each of our customers which can be a challenge, especially when working with different OEMs at the same time.
The testing departments are in general a male dominated environment. Over the years I got used to it since I have been working in jobs that were mostly male dominant (mechanic, engineering) since the age of sixteen. It is not always easy. At my job, for example, it is important (and mandatory) to know and be able to mount wheels and tires on your own. Luckily, we have our mechanic colleagues at Continental, who support changing tires and other things that need more physical strenghth, giving us the chance to focus on our tire evaluation.
Being accepted and respected takes a lot of time, and more than that, you need to prove yourself over and over again. Given that it is a worldwide joke that “women can’t drive…”, maybe women need to be a bit more aware of the possible limitations it could bring. Needless to say, we need to be good drivers as a prerequirement for our job and this skill is usually associated with men.
For me, it is also a constant learning process about focusing on your dream and your career. I love my job and I do it with all my heart, I am highly dedicated and I always try to go (and drive!) the extra mile. Sometimes it is not possible – however I am very commited to my job and strive to become a better professional day by day. That is how I deal with most challenges of my job.
To sum it up, I think if you really want something, you have got to work hard for it. It doesn’t matter what, nothing will come easy, especially if you are a woman trying to enter a male dominated business. And do not fool yourselves thinking there is a “women bonus”. There is no such thing. Either you are good or you are out. The bottom line to me is if you are honest and professional, you can make it. It is definitely not an easy way.
My believe is that we are all colleagues and it doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man, we are human beings. Respect and professionalism should be the focus, not the gender.
As well as I am truly accepted and valued by most co-workers and customers there will always be some people that are skeptical of whether a woman is really capable to do this job. My answer to this is to keep working, to respect everybody, and to do my best. Interesting enough I am often mistaken as a Developer Engineer. It seems that in certain areas people are getting more used to the women’s presence.