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Women in the auto care industry are inching closer, but are they there yet?

Sunday, November 3, 2019 - 07:00
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As for working women across the automotive aftermarket, has this industry lived up to its promise as a welcoming environment? A tiny sampling of them representing installer services spoke candidly about lower barriers to entry and upward mobility. While male influencers figure in and overt sexism is ebbing, these professionals credit Women in the Auto Care (WiAC), a vibrant community within the Auto Care Association trade organization.

Each backstory is heartwarmingly encouraging. But abundantly more evidence is needed to validate the nagging concern whether this industry is hospitable to women at every level all the way up to the manufacturers.

For starters, let’s rejoice in everybody’s gains.

Never confuse empowerment with male bashing, many say. They view empowerment strictly by attitude — that is by “doing the job right,” said Jacquie Hower and her mother, Judy, joint operators of a full-service repair facility in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Judy Zimmerman insists on an egalitarian culture where women should be encouraged at the earliest age to embrace their potential rather than bend to societal expectations. A handful of people praised TechForce, a non-profit foundation that opens vocational training opportunities to youngsters contemplating the technician career track.

Negativity about one’s personal callings can inflict self-destructive habits. Over a social media video narrated by Christina who found herself attracted to the mechanical workings of car engines, but lacking a grounded role model in high school, the lure of recreational drugs swept her into prison rehab. Given a second chance, Christina’s passion for car restoration came out of hiding that landed her into an automotive trades school. With unconditional support by her current employer, a high-end European motor facility in nearby Temecula, Calif., servicing cars is now Christina’s haven for nourishing her ambition to earn the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification. From there, Christina has set her sights on electric propulsion technologies.

Amy Mattinat, a Vermont-based shop owner who guided WiAC’s transformation, which she calls going from “hosting meetings to holding conferences,” has given the members the resources to forward their careers. Early on when Auto Care Association president Bill Hanvey endorsed this growing movement, explained, Mattinat, a positive multiplier effect was set in motion.

A mentor introduced Christina to WiAC. They spotted her budding talents that resulted in scholarship funding. Everyone at Zimmerman Automotive benefited from WiAC, contends Jacquie Hower. Together on regular brainstorming sessions with fellow shop owners and corporate executives, she brought home lots of best practices ranging from service marketing to employee relations. Even at AutoCraftmen in Montpelier, Vt., Mattinat accompanied her service writer to WiAC conferences, and continues to reinvest in education for her ASE-trained technicians. All told, when it comes to rolling out the welcome mat in developing women into the aftermarket, there’s plenty to cheer about.

Almost.

Here’s what you should know about the occupational earnings gap. The aggregate female to male spread totals one-third, writes The Economist magazine. According to their reporting, gender segregation festers in a glass-walled and oftentimes unbalanced state. As for finding employment, male graduates in math and science have a higher likelihood, and even if women do accept a position, they’re apt to leave sooner. Male-dominated environments make fertile hazing grounds versus those in roughly equal numbers.

Perhaps not for long. Catalyst, a non-profit think tank on women in the workplace, concludes that females now make up 27 percent of jobs across the automotive and industrial manufacturing spaces. By next year, one expert predicts that they will surpass the one-third mark, and finally blot out the fraternal order.

Broken down by responsibility, The Economist cautions that displaced same-sex environments are unhealthy for longevity. Up at the top-paying jobs, 85 percent of those positions have been awarded to men. Down at the bottom-paying ones, 23 out of 30 are occupied by women.

Presently however, this industry lacks specific data along the lines of Catalyst and The Economist. One way to zero in on causes that matter is to launch a gender sentiment index. Continual fact-based input will be necessary. Without reliable intel to clarify whether this industry is better off in areas like segregation between the blue and pink sexes, conversations will be hard to come by without quoting third-source publications. Even worse are when the conclusions conflict with each other.

Established hard data will help validate the questions on happiness in the industry that addresses equal pay, harassment and integration — the bones that provide support for Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights act. Actionable benchmarks will help prioritize what needs to be done to recruit and retain the sisterhood, and next focus on more pressing issues like educating and training the repair shop segment that keeps the rest of the industry growing.

The good news is that the Auto Care Association annually publishes a statistical abstract. Already in place are many capable people who can model a methodology that can gain an objective understanding of members’ attitudes and opinions on key issues impacting their contributions. A gender sentiment index survey would provide a means of incorporating anecdotal measures into a quantifiable one that allows comparing one result against another from a previous period. By having access to publicly available information, company managers would be able to gauge attitudinal expectations and probable trends or future behaviors. In short, a key issues impact survey will judge the level of optimism or pessimism by the survey respondents. Unlike corporate surveillance, those who voluntarily take this survey remain anonymous and forthcoming without fear to voice their expectations.

Converting scattered opinions into one can catalyze an engaged discourse about more female involvement into roles they deserve. WiAC has shown their value in boosting their bottom lines and keeping independent automotive services profitable. All it takes is for active collaboration between the stakeholders to push for a womens’ sentiment index. This is an inclusive culture we can easily afford.

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