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Nissan engineer Panthipa Thongkaow is breaking barriers in the automotive industry

How one woman defies gender norms in a male-dominated space

Did you know that this person might be behind one of your favorite exterior trimmings on your Nissan vehicle? PHOTO FROM NISSAN

Panthipa Thongkaow isn’t in the field of design that perhaps many would initially think she belonged in.

When it comes to women in the design industry, perhaps fashion or interior design comes to mind. Panthipa (or simply “Bew”), on the other hand, actually designs cars for a living, and is currently heading Nissan’s Exterior Trim Engineering team in Thailand.

Her diverse team is shaking up standards in the automotive space. PHOTO FROM NISSAN

In a male-dominated space such as the car industry, Bew is an inspiring example of the fact that there’s more than enough room for diversity in every field, regardless of the stereotypes we’ve grown accustomed to. It has been over 10 years since Thongkaow joined the industry as an engineer.

Today, she along with her diverse team of engineers at Nissan’s Research and Development Division continue to challenge the norm with their accomplishments.

Thongkaow’s department is successfully pushing limits in design and innovation, while simultaneously representing Nissan’s commitment to influence diversity in innovation.

Her team has helped to make Nissan vehicles look like they do today. PHOTOS FROM NISSAN

Her team not only varies in gender, but also in age and experience. As a result, the company has benefited from their input in both design and functionality in the development of exterior parts such as the grille, the hood ornament, and the front and rear bumpers.

For engineers like Bew, every development entails thorough research. Factoring in performance, safety, trends, and consumer preferences, the design should seamlessly blend with the overall aesthetics.

She sees the tremendous advantage gained from the unique perspectives and insights that a diverse team brings to the table. Though their differences naturally present some challenges, she believes there is still much more to gain once these challenges have been overcome.

The Navara Black Edition is one of her and her team's most successful projects. PHOTO FROM NISSAN

One of their best designs, the Navara Black Edition, is tangible proof of Bew and her team’s successful rapport. With the vehicle initially developed in Japan, she and her team took the helm in taking over the design concept once it reached Thailand’s headquarters.

This is just one of the many Nissan models on the road today that have materialized under Thongkaow’s leadership.

These breakthroughs within the Nissan community show us what opening doors for gender diversity can do. For the automotive industry and others, the strides are small but promising.

Thongkaow declares: “Previously, it was not uncommon for individuals to be passed over for promotions or development opportunities due to gender biases. Now, it’s encouraging to see an increase in women occupying leadership roles within sectors that were once predominantly male.”

Hopefully, other manufacturers will take notice and follow suit to accept more talented individuals regardless of gender. PHOTO FROM NISSAN

Bew shares a recommendation on how other companies can begin making changes for the better: “We need to ensure there are no entry barriers across industries. For instance, using gender-neutral language in job descriptions for roles often filled by men can broaden the search for qualified individuals.”

Empowered by Nissan’s efforts to promote a diverse and inclusive culture, Thongkaow is just one of the many women across the ASEAN region that have successfully challenged occupational expectations of women and continue to succeed in a male-dominated workplace.

The automotive industry continues to break barriers with support from companies like Nissan, thanks to its efforts to promote gender diversity. Women like Panthipa Thongkaow who are thriving in male-dominated industries demonstrate a positive sign of the times, and hopefully will encourage gender diversity within these occupations.

Patty Morato-Roa

Patty had an early career as a TV and print model. She was also immersed in the motoring world at a young age having spent her childhood around annual car shows. She has worked as an editorial assistant, and dabbles in photography as well. She’s a wife of an avid motorcycle rider and a mom of two.