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Motor Age

"Wearing Her Moxie on Her Sleeve"

Did you know she's works in that repair shop?

January, 2001, by Bridget Ryan Snell


"A female technician? I don't think I've ever met a female auto technician." A typical reaction to hearing of this 'phenomenon.'

Unfortunately, this type of reaction evokes a discrimination of sorts among the motoring public toward female techs and service providers. There's the story of a woman having to turn a repair over to her male counterpart because the vehicle owner really wants a man to do the job. Or the struggling female shop owner who has to defend her knowledge of automotive service. And, occasionally you'll hear about a woman discouraged from an automotive career because "it's for boys."

Motor Age got together informally with four of the industry's female leaders that represent various areas of the automotive industry -- Michele Winn, a technician, Bonnie Duerksen, a service manager, Angi Semler, a journalist, and Lorrie Toni, an educator and trainer -- to get the real low-down.

Motor Age: Who is your mentor(s)?

Lorrie Toni: Women leaders -- Dr. Christine Johnson, vice-president, Educational Services, Community Colleges of Colorado; Dr. Dorothy Horrell, former president, Community Colleges of Colorado; [and] Elizabeth Dole. It takes very special dignity and grace to be a change agent, especially for women leaders. Those women who can implement systems of continuous improvement, in my mind, have extra courage and extra vision.

Bonnie Duerkson: Gerald Gillas at Midas Muffler, who hired me into the industry with absolutely no previous automotive experience and taught me a lot about cars. He gave me the basic education to move on the bigger and better responsibilities. Bob Baker, our sales manager at Car Clinic Service, teaches me everyday, not only about servicing automobiles, but also about how to sell to, and then deliver the goods, to the customer. And Mr. Bobby Likis, who has opened a door that I could never have expected -- the opportunity to be service manager. His confidence in me makes me want to succeed. And what a role model!

Angi Semler: I think Lucille Treganowan is a great role model for both women and men in any industry. Her accomplishments illustrate how much you can achieve, regardless of your gender, if you are committed to something and if you work hard.

Michelle Winn: Jim Linder! Whenever possible, he takes me along when he travels. He makes sure to introduce me to 'the players' in our industry. He gives me advice, suggests books and magazines I should read, etc. He allows me to basically follow him around so I can learn to do what he does. That way, when I get his job, I'll already be really good at it!

Motor Age: Have you ever felt like you should just give up, or has anyone pressured you to try something else other than working in a traditionally male-dominated industry?

Toni: Honestly, yes, there are times when I think, "Why bother?" But I am very concerned about the unnecessary limits that women in this country accept. Women bring important elements to the table in her work at the job site, the family, the school, the church and the society. She is not worthy of more than men, but in a strong and successful society, she should have equal opportunities to achieve her dreams. She should be able to achieve her dreams without having to sacrifice the critically important work that she does as a mother, a wife and a community member. But then again, so should men!

Duerkson: I have to admit it: Sometimes it is a challenge to work in a male-dominated industry! But I never felt I should give up. Then I wouldn't practice what I preach to my nine-year old. Don't ever give up, I tell him -- just do the best that you can until you can figure out how to do it better!

Semler: I became part of the automotive industry because I love cars and I love knowing the intricacies of today's vehicles what makes them work and what causes them to break down. The fact that the industry still is predominantly male only serves as a motivating force to be good at what I do, in the hopes that I can help change the perceptions of those within, as well as outside of, the industry. I want to add, though, that I am probably sheltered from a lot of prejudices … because there seem to be more women in collision repair [which I am involved in] than in mechanical repair. (Many, many collision facilities are owned by husband-and-wife teams, and both spouses take an active role in running the business.) If I were working in a repair facility, I think I would be more likely to see or hear any stereotypes consumers and co-workers might have. But even if that were the case, it wouldn't change my decision to be in this industry.

Winn: There has only been one time I have felt that way. When I first graduated from technical school I had trouble finding a job. I had experience as a service writer, but no on-the-job experience as a technician … I was told a number of times that the position was "just filled." I even had one shop refuse to even give me an application because they did not have any openings. Funny thing about that, I sent a male friend of mine into the same shop just a few minutes later and they hired him on the spot! I was definitely ready to give up! I knew it would be hard for me to find a job, but I did not know it would be impossible.

I worked very hard in school to graduate at the top of my class. I had even passed a few ASE tests while I was still in school, hoping that these things would make me more desirable to an employer. I felt like all of my hard work was for nothing! But, no one has ever pressured me to give up or do something else. My parents were a little skeptical at first. They are both teachers and believe strongly that everyone needs a good [college] education.

I think they had several concerns: Will this occupation make me enough money to support myself? Will I be working on cars for the rest of my life or are there other opportunities in the automotive field? How will the men treat me? I think they were also concerned that their little girl was going to 'settle' for a 'lesser' occupation. Notice I used the word occupation, because I believe that is how most people see us. Automotive technician is seen as a job or occupation, not a career. Last week my Dad and I were talking about my work and he said, "Well, I guess I won't worry about you any more. This seems to be working out very well for you." I think my parents have finally accepted my work, of course, it's been over seven years now!

Motor Age: How does it feel to be among only a handful of women in the industry?

Toni: I love being a part of these industries. There is so much opportunity in a myriad of trades and technical careers. It is so unfortunate that neither boys nor girls are aware of these wonderful and challenging options. It is hard to be a pioneer, but it is also very rewarding. I envision a day when women in any career will be just matter-of-fact, and there will not be a need for special articles about our uniqueness! This country cannot meet all the challenges of our rapidly evolving future without the expertise and education of both our men and our women. I am excited about how automotive technology can bring math and science to life! What a wonderful field of knowledge -- it is truly a treasure of concepts that can lead to limitless opportunity. My automotive technology degree opened so many doors -- some that I am still finding!

Duerkson: It feels GREAT to be in this industry. People need to know that women can do a lot of things that men can do and be just as good at it -- or even better!

Semler: In my job at ABRN, I don't necessarily feel like I'm in the minority. The men and women in the collision repair industry are very friendly and very conversational, so I've never felt out of place or unwelcome at an industry conference, show and seminar. It is also very rewarding when my technical background and my ASE certifications come up in conversation. I think it surprises the majority of people I talk to, and I tend to believe it's because I am a woman. But they always seem to be pleasantly surprised, maybe a little impressed, and I believe my background helps build my credibility with them and within the industry in general.

Winn: I don't think of myself as one of the few women in the industry. After being on iATN and traveling with Jim, I have met the finest automotive techs in the country! I consider it an honor that I work in a field with such great professionals. What makes it even better? Some of them even know my name!

Motor Age: Have there been any times when you have been questioned (or ignored) in your job just because you are a woman?

Toni: Many -- as a teacher and as an administrator it takes strength and a deep belief in what you are trying to accomplish to keep going sometimes. First there is this anger that asks, "Why do they question me? If I were a man, they would not question this." But after some time to unwind and rethink, there comes a rededication to remembering "What are we trying to achieve?" In education, there are many theories and answers so as my program manager taught me remember, no matter what the philosophies, all teachers have the same goal: to help students to learn. That keeps me forgiving and coming back.

Duerkson: There have been many times when this has happened. There are a lot of men who refuse to talk to me because I am a woman. I've had them tell me that they don't think I was educated enough to answer their questions. Here's an example: [A man] has been a customer of Car Clinic Service for many years. Since I was the first woman in the service department in the history of our shop, he has always dealt with a male at the service desk. When I was first introduced to him, he literally ignored me. I knew I had two choices: Get mad or 'get even.' One day, [this man] called and … I was the only one at the service desk. Now he had two choices: Deal with me or take it to another shop. Reluctantly, he decided on the first alternative. I called our foreign specialist technician to the desk and invited [the customer] to take Ray for a ride so that he could hear for himself the noise. And that was all it took. He and Ray took the car for a spin and by that afternoon, he had his very quiet car returned to him. But [this man] isn't quiet anymore! He tells everyone about the 'female Service Manager at Car Clinic Service.' Now in his eyes, I can handle his service -- right along with Mr. Baker.

Semler: I would say one of the most annoying experiences I ever had was in technical school -- my first class, my first day of school. We had assigned seats, primarily in alphabetical order. But I noticed that the four women in the class of 25 or 30 were seated in the front row. I endeared myself to the instructor right away by asking him during a break to explain this. He said he always seated the females up front because he found that if they were intermingled with the rest of the class, the guys spent time trying to get their attention instead of paying attention to class. A male classmate told me later how irritated the instructor was that I had asked him about the seating chart. He told my classmate that his intention was only "to protect us" from the guys. My argument to either of the instructor's explanations is this: If the guys can't sit in the classroom with us, how are they going to work side-by-side with us on the job? But to the credit of my male classmates, I think the instructor's 'precautions' were unnecessary. After 15 months with primarily the same classmates, I can't think of a single example where my fellow students questioned me or ignored me because I'm a woman. I didn't feel like an outsider, and I never got the impression that the guys thought I couldn't do the work just because of my gender.

Winn: I have NEVER been questioned by a co-worker, and I think that says a lot for the men in our industry. I have, however, been questioned numerous times by customers. At first it really bothered me, but the more confident I became in myself and my abilities, the less annoying it seemed. Now when a customer challenges me, I see it as an opportunity to share with them what I know. I have also found that the more experience I have, the less I am questioned.

Motor Age: What words of advice can you give to women-up-and-comers in the industry?

Toni: Hang in there! You are valuable to the industry. A few men may define their masculinity by their career choice but only a few. A growing number of young men realize that all careers are equally available to women and men. If the work site is wearing down your spirit and enthusiasm in subtle, hard-to-describe ways, obtain a professional counselor to help you keep hold of your personal strengths. Do not try to be a man. Be a woman. The industry needs your 'softness' and caring nature. Customers appreciate it -- and profit and success are based on customer satisfaction.

Duerkson: The best advice I can give anyone is to always do the best you can do …until you can find a way to do it better! There will be a lot of hurdles and challenges in our industry, just like in any other. But if you stay positive, work smart and always focus on the solution, not just the problem, you'll overcome the obstacles.

Semler: Do your job to the best of your ability, keep up-to-date with your training, and remember that the best way to prove your competence and dispel anyone's doubts about your skills is to prove both by producing one example after another.

Winn: Don't give up! Remember that this industry is becoming more focused on electronic and computer skills, not dirty, heavy work. With the changes in technology, shop owners realize that the best person for the job may not always be a man. I believe they just want someone intelligent, professional and qualified! There is a huge shortage of technicians across the country; this is a great time to look for a job.

Bonnie L. Duerksen
Service Manager, Bobby Likis Car Clinic Service
Noteworthy: Bonnie is the first female service manager to be
hired at Car Clinic Services

Hobbies: Spending all my free time with my husband Mike and my nine-year-old son Matthew. That time is spent at football, baseball, Boy Scouts and school activities. If I have time for myself, I'm usually working in the yard.
Career History: 1995, Front office clerk at Midas Muffler; 1996, Service Writer, Car Clinic Service; 2000, Service Manager, Car Clinic Service
Training: On-the-job training, both in informal day-to-day operations and in formal management education
Career Goals: "To be the best service manager in the country by educating our customers on car repairs, reassuring them that they can trust our team with their car, and 'preaching' to them how important it is to take care of their vehicles."

Angi Semler
Managing Editor, Automotive Body Repair News (ABRN)
Angi works with a staff that is 95 percent female.

Hobbies: Running/hiking, photography
Career History: 1997, Associate Editor, ABRN; 1999, Managing Editor, ABRN
Training: B.A. Journalism with journalism; Associate's degree in automotive technology, mechanics and electronics; ASE-certified in engine repair and electrical/electronic systems. Goal is to become a master technician.
Career Goals: "I would like to eventually work in a capacity that enabled me to educate consumers on the basic systems and operations of their vehicles, including routine maintenance requirements, so they can make intelligent decisions when it comes to maintaining and repairing their cars and trucks. At the same, I would like to work with consumers and repairers in some way that makes the repair experience smoother, more convenient and less stressful for all parties involved."

Lorrie Toni
Asst. Program Manager, Trades,
Industrial and Technical Education and Colorado SkillsUSA,
VICA Director at Community Colleges of Colorado,
and Colorado Skills USA-VICA

She was the first woman in the United States to be recognized as a
Volkswagen Master Certified Technician.


Hobbies: Rarely anytime for hobbies, but family first, then fishing, sewing and guitar.
Career History: 1984, Automotive technology and Industry Training, Aims Community College; Associate of Applied Science. Before entering the automotive industry, she earned a B.A. in Home Economics.
Career Goals: "Help the public realize the value, passion and opportunities in trades, industrial and technical careers. Help women realize the value, passion and opportunities in trades, industrial and technical careers. Build stronger partnerships with education and industry. Build stronger articulation between community colleges and universities. Keep trade, industrial and technical education programs at value-added levels. Incorporate total quality and Baldridge principles into Colorado SkillsUSA-VICA. Be a model for other women.

Michele Winn
Driveability Technician, a.k.a. the Analysis Sleuth,
Linder Technical Services

The first woman pit crew mechanic for NASCAR.

Hobbies: Riding my 1999 Harley-Davidson Sportster and playing piano.
Career History: 1990, Worked at tire service center; part-time secretary/bookkeeper while attending college at I.U.P.U.I (Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis); Service writer; 1993, Lincoln Technical Institute, Associate degree in Automotive Service Management.
Career Goals:"I had a similar discussion with Jim just a few weeks ago. He wanted to know what my future plans were. I told him that within five years, I want his job. I want to be in charge of our local training programs, travel across the country and teach technical seminars and still manage to work on enough vehicles that I keep my classes 'real world.' I would also like to write more technical articles."

Reprinted with permission from Advanstar Communications' Motor Age Magazine
http://www.womentechworld.org/bios/auto/articles/motor.htm#

 


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