Right now, women account for less than 8% of Lamborghini buyers. But the company is hoping that its first-ever SUV—planned to launch as a 2018 model—will help expand the appeal of the storied Italian brand, luring more female buyers.
One of the people leading that charge is 30-year-old Bonnie Wade, manager of Lamborghini’s Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory in Seattle. The Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical engineering PhD is in the midst of developing a new forged carbon fiber composite that will be used to make body panels and other components for Lamborghini’s upcoming vehicle models, including that still-unnamed SUV.
Sign up: Click here to subscribe to the Broadsheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the world’s most powerful women.
Wade says that the new material is stronger, lighter, and cheaper than aluminum or steel and will play a major role in the company’s portfolio. “Suddenly, with the same engine, you can go a lot faster,” Wade says of the composite. “The work we do is very exciting because oftentimes in academia you do work and maybe it doesn’t see the light of day or it’s an application that can come around 50 years from now.”
But being a woman in the automotive industry can be challenging. Wade recalls colleagues’ hesitation when she first started working at the lab during her junior year at the University of Washington. “Early on in my career, I think that people underestimated me a little bit,” she says. “The first thing I was asked to do was use a table saw to cut things, and you always kind of get the, ‘Well, can you do this? Are you comfortable with this?’ For me, the answer was always, ‘Yeah, it’s fine. If you can do it, I can do it.’”
Engineering was a natural fit for Wade, whose doctoral thesis focused on the crashworthiness of composite structures, including the Boeing Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Lamborghini Aventador. She credits her father, a former pilot for Delta and Northwest, and her Bay Area elementary school with stoking her interest in math and science.
“I went to a really, really great public school, and I was never told that I can’t do that or can’t be that,” she says. “I liked math as a little kid, and I was allowed to. Actually the idea that it was not something normal, that I was in the minority, didn’t come about until university.”
At college, she noticed that her math and science programs were losing women, despite the fact that her class boasted one of the highest numbers of female graduates in her program: seven out of 42. “That’s when people started asking me, ‘What’s it like being one of only a few women?’ And I’d go, ‘Well, I hadn’t actually thought about it.’ That’s when I started to reflect on why am I here and why aren’t there more of us?”
Wade believes part of the answer to that question lies in the lack of encouragement during girls’ elementary-level education. She also notes that industries such as aerospace and automotive could do a lot more to get girls interested in math and science.
“It’s the lower education levels that make it be okay for girls to like math and science,” says Wade. “Any programs to get girls interested in these topics is very important.”