Catarina Silva – the tyre creator: ‘Sustainability is not just a buzzword’
This is one of a series of interviews with women in key roles in Extreme E, the new electric off-road championship with a stated commitment to equality as well as the environment.
Catarina Silva, 40, works as a team lead for production management for Continental Tires, one of the founding partners of Extreme E. Originally from Portugal, she has lived in Hanover, Germany, for 14 years, and has a nine-year-old daughter.
What is your role at Continental?
I lead the product management team responsible for all our summer van and off-road products for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We also make the bridge between manufacturing R&D and marketing and sales, so we have this very nice ‘translation’ function. It’s never boring and you never know what you’ll be doing next week!
And what role are you playing in Extreme E?
Since last year I have had the privilege of leading the technical support team for the tyre group – so I am there coordinating multiple initiatives: the tyre development itself, the tyre service, [and] we also have some technologies integrated supplied by us. I also coordinate Continental’s sustainability activities.
Sustainability is not just a buzzword, it is extremely important for the organisation and for our own wellbeing
Will you be going to the race sites for Extreme E?
Yes, I’ll be going to Saudi as a starting point and of course the technical team needs to be present – we are the tyre experts. But for sustainability reasons we reduced the team to the absolute minimum.
What are the particular technical demands of designing tyres for this challenge?
The Extreme E Odyssey 21 is a huge animal, extremely powerful, very heavy, designed to be driven at high speed in five completely different surfaces and locations, so our tyres had to be extremely strong. So it’s quite a challenge!
You do a lot of work on sustainability at Continental, can you tell me more about that aspect of your role?
Because me and my team are responsible for product development – the product roadmap and portfolio planning – and the company has defined clear targets regarding sustainability, we have to provide the roadmap to make it possible.
Sustainability is not just a buzzword, it is extremely important for the organisation and for our own wellbeing, and we work together with R&D and material development, defining new solutions and working on recycling solutions. It’s not only sustainability, it’s regarding working conditions, payments, and so on.
What motivated you to join this industry?
It was luck! I studied mining and environmental engineering in Portugal. About 15 years ago I got to hear about the training pool initiative as a recruiting and starting point with Conti here in Hanover and decided to apply, without really being sure what it would be.
Here I met an extremely international bubble of engineers, passionate about their work. They didn’t hesitate to share the projects they were working on, and would ask your opinion – they appreciated the exchange because fresh eyes bring value sometimes. I figured out I had a role here.
It’s a male-dominated industry, but that didn’t seem to hold you back?
I believe I’m quite privileged in this company, as we have made major efforts to incentivise and to show ambitious female talent that we can have the career we want. It’s not always a walk in the park, but I would say I always felt equally treated.
[I’m] female, Portuguese, very passionate – I don’t hesitate to say what I think – and for a woman normally that can be perceived as pushy whereas a man would be called a tough guy, but on the other side you learn and develop and you learn to deal with the situations.
What can be done to encourage women and girls to come into the industry?
The company does a lot because we believe that diversity is a value – the range of customers has diversified, it’s no longer just 50-year-old men who buy tyres. So there are many initiatives.
We also have many activities to allow women to be able to progress or stay in the job, particularly if they have a family. It’s also our responsibility to reach these young women who still don’t know – like I didn’t 15 years ago – how much fun it can be to work here. For that we have proactive initiatives in universities.
If a woman is curious and likes challenges, this is a great industry.
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Photo credit: Extreme E and Charly Lopez