An Oxford car business is spearheading the Government's Women in Work programme with a drive to attract more women into the motor trade.

Hartwell Ford has teamed up with the Institute of the Motor Industry in a bid to break down the macho image of a sector in which 84 per cent of employees are male.

The Government has allocated £1m to the Women in Work programme for the retail motor sector - money that participating companies can use to recruit more women or to train employees.

Yvonne Cubbage, general manager of Hartwell Ford at the Motor Park in Kidlington, acknowledges she's working in a man's world.

She joined the firm 24 years ago, starting out as a 16-year-old clerk in the service department. There was no "glass ceiling" blocking her path as she rose through the ranks.

She said: "It worked for me and it could work for others too."

She added: "Now the trade is changing and becoming more family friendly."

Ms Cubbage, 39, admitted most customers walking into the showroom were men but added the number of women customers was rising.

Monique Boath, project manager of the Women in Work Automotive Skills programme, said the under-representation of women in the trade meant family friendly initiatives such as flexible working and part-time opportunities were lacking.

But the latest initiative aimed to tackle those issues.

The National Employer Survey has shown the sector has significant skills shortages in management and leadership.

Only 14 per cent of managers have qualifications to level four or above - the lowest of any sector in the UK.

And the IMI also found most female employees in the sector conform to stereotypes, mainly secretarial, administration, and customer service.