Ford's Linda Zhang is showing Australia's Scott Morrison how it's done

Ford’s Chief Engineer Linda Zhang is showing Australia’s Scott Morrison how it’s done

Linda Zhang

Just as Scott Morrison announced a $600 million investment into a gas-fired plant in NSW that makes no commercial or environmental sense, someone on the other side of the planet was demonstrating how her leadership and innovation are taking us into the future.

Her name is Linda Zhang. She’s the chief engineer at Ford behind the launch of the F-150 electric truck, which was unveiled this week in spectacular style in the United States. The truck can tow 10 double-decker rail cars. It can power a house for three days following an outage as “your own personal power plant”. It’s faster than any of Ford’s previous F-150 models.

Linda stood on stage to highlight the features and how it was created.

“It’s a dream that started when I was eight years old and rode in a car for the first time, just after my family moved to the United States,” she said.

“Anything is possible when you dream big,” she added while explaining how the team had worked day and night over the past three years.

Linda Zhang started at Ford at 19 and has been there for 25 years across very different positions including corporate strategy, finance and product development. She has previously explained how her team is equally balanced in gender and across other forms of diversity. She has spoken about how her employer has supported her career development, particularly in raising a family, which she says the company helped her in balancing when her two kids were young. “We are a true team, the village that everyone says you need to raise a family,” she said in a past interview.

She epitomizes the possibilities that happen when passion, creativity and skills are matched with the support women need to breakthrough in traditionally male-dominated fields, like car manufacturing and engineering.

And of course, what she has launched — a powerful electric truck — epitomizes the possibilities in moving forward and accepting that many of the technologies of the past are not fit for the future, no matter how politically necessary they may seem.

This brings me back to a different demonstration of leadership, the announcement of that gas-fired plant in the Hunter region, coming at a politically convenient time with a by-election occurring this week, and a project that is set to cost taxpayers $600 million. As always, it helps to put that figure in context with other major spending announcements, particularly when it comes to the Coalition’s efforts on women’s economic security and safety. That $600 million figure is not much less than the $680 million over three years that has been allocated on women’s safety.

And let’s also consider another announcement Morrison was involved in this week: the launch of the Kickstarter Challenge entrepreneurial pitching program, in which 18 to 24 year old women have the opportunity to pitch their business ideas for the chance to achieve mentoring and industry support opportunities, as well as a share in $60,000 in seed capital.

I don’t want to discourage any young woman from pitching their business idea in a program like this, but a share in $60,000 is the best we can offer? Especially as it’s industry that appears to have come to the table on the other prizes being shared. This program launch gave Morrison and the woman he took along to support this announcement, Assistant Minister for Women Amanda Stoker, another photo opportunity in support of their women’s economic security and opportunities credentials. Last week, Stoker was addressing a different kind of event: an anti-abortion rally alongside Senator Matt Canavan and George Christensen.

Morrison’s appearance at the Kickstart Challenge also came as young people and students across the country were preparing to take to the streets for the #SchoolStrike4Climate demanding that the Australian Government take some kind of action on climate change — something more meaningful than the pathetic response that was issued in the 2021 Federal Budget, in which the Treasurer declared a “preference” to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

President Joe Biden took a test drive in the newly launched vehicle Ford truck this week, highlighting his enthusiasm for the innovation declaring it’s “quick” and agreeing that he would want to “buy one”. He never once suggested it would “ruin the weekend” of Americans, as our PM once said about a push for electric vehicles in Australia.

So, in a week in which the Morrison Government continued to chain Australia to the past century as much of the rest of the world urges us to join them in the current one, I saw this positive Ford announcement featuring Linda as something to get excited by. I’m excited by the potential and the ideas that those young women will bring to the entrepreneurial Kickstarter program. And I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm again of the young people in taking part in the school strikes for climate today.

We know we have huge and similar levels of talent to Linda Zhang here in Australia and we’ve seen where and how some (not all) employers are pushing to give women in STEM, and those who could lead on massive innovations, the opportunities and support they need to make it happen.

But the government incentives? No amount of women’s entrepreneurship initiatives or women in STEM programs or career checkpoint placements will make up for the absolute hostility the Morrison Government has towards any kind of innovation that might dare support us in entering a greener future.

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