"Wearing Her Moxie on Her Sleeve"
Did you know she's works in that repair shop?
January, 2001, by Bridget Ryan Snell
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
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
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
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
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.
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
||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
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."
Managing Editor, Automotive Body Repair News
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."
Asst. Program Manager, Trades,
Industrial and Technical Education and Colorado
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
Driveability Technician, a.k.a. the Analysis
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