Automotive Women: The Unsung Heroes of Transportation

Mar 8, 2019

automotive women at work

They account for more autos sold annually than men and influence the majority of car purchases. So… why is it that less than 16 percent of car industry professionals are female? Oh, sure, you go to your local motor vehicle department and the people behind the counter are mostly women or you go to a car dealership and the receptionist and title clerks are predominantly ladies, but when it comes to the board of directors, the actual power and decision makers in positions of leadership, even designers and builders, the dudes rule. Automotive women are such an anomaly, being picked up by one in ride-hailing is even met with surprise. What’s the deal?

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re featuring the unsung heroes of transportation — automotive women.

The dawning of the age of women mechanics

female mechanic at work, one of many automotive women

Many women worry they will be or are being taken advantage of by the guys who work on their automobiles and often fear garages. Consequently, this is leading women to become mechanics themselves. In the UK alone, these automotive women have jumped by 125 percent, now making up a little over 10 percent of the folks working on your car in that country.

In the U.S., where the ratio of men to women service technicians is a whopping 98.6 percent, more and more female-owned shops are opening up such as Patrice Banks’ Girls Auto Clinic in Upper Darby, PA, and Heidi Derhy’s Signal Auto Garage in St. Paul, MN. Yes, they’re still rare, but no matter how much advice women get on how to prepare for a trip to the shop, being met by someone who may not judge you for or take advantage of your gender is a pleasant alternative as well as empowering women and challenging gender roles.

Perhaps the bravest venture into the auto shop world is Shadi Mohammed in Sulaimani, Iraq. In 2017, the former civil servant and mom taught herself how to fix cars to combat economic downturn and opened a repair shop run and operated by women, the first one ever with the first ever female mechanics in the male-dominated country. This pioneer and her crew put up with a steady stream of male customers coming into the shop simply to gawk at them, absolutely no government support — but also, interestingly enough, no resistance — and not one ounce of outside financial or business support. All of Shadi’s mechanics know their stuff and take a lot of deep breaths while dealing with the backlash and harassment, slowly changing minds and building the business.

The automotive women behind the men at dealerships

automotive women conferring

You go into a dealership to buy a vehicle and more than likely a male salesperson talks cars with you, takes you for the test drive, makes the sale. No surprise. Then you sit with a male finance person — probably — to work out your deal only to get the keys to your car from the dealer guy again and drive off the lot. Oh, sure, you may have been greeted by a female receptionist and you notice a few automotive women here and there behind desks doing something or other you have no visibility to, but whatever.

While men make up 78.2 percent of the auto dealers in the U.S. and 76.5 in Canada, women influence 85 percent of all motor vehicle purchases, buy 60 percent of the new and over half of the used cars around the world. That being said, a breakdown of professions by gender shows that although you’re seeing men front of house when you buy an automobile or working on it when you bring it in for your regularly scheduled tune-up, the back of the house compliance work is mostly done by the automotive women.

Percentage of Back Office Jobs Filled by Women

percentage of automotive women

Granted, these stats are broken out across a variety of industries, but you get the point. These are the people who see to it that you get your registration, that the fees posted by the dealership are correctly and promptly submitted to the public offices that govern motor vehicles, that the paperwork is in good working order before it even goes to those offices; and they’re the ones who keep on top of all the regulations placed upon automobile dealerships so they are always compliant. The Title & Reg Clerks are the behind-the-scenes automotive women you may see, but never really deal with. They keep that place running like the well-oiled machine it needs to be to stay in business and they make sure you get what you need so you’ll keep coming back to buy more of what they’re selling.

Dealing with the offices that regulate vehicles is an intricate, ever-changing process. New laws, rules, legislation, addendums… you name it, they’re constantly being updated, revised, deleted, and on and on. Staying up to date with all of that is part of the job of these behind-the-scenes women and helping them do that as well as making sure the paperwork they’re submitting is correct before it goes out is supported by a predominantly female crew: Auditors, Customer Support and registration professional trainers.

The teachers, the helpers, the “got your back”-ers

automotive women in Agoura Hills

Located in an office building at the far west corner of California’s San Fernando Valley are several automotive women. A group audits the deals for car sellers to ensure their paperwork is correct before submission to California DMV. Another takes calls from dealers to assist them with questions, software issues, electronic licensing & titling problems. And still, another — Registration Management Professionals (RMP) — strategizes and prepares workshops for industry professionals by coordinating trainers and schedules at various locations throughout the country. These RMP trainers then teach title & reg clerks and F&I personnel at dealerships and Credit Union staff about the constantly changing rules/laws/regulations/processes of the different motor vehicle departments in each of their areas.

The years of combined experience of all of the automotive women in this corporate office — which actually breaks convention with some in leadership positions as high up as Vice President — plus the local experts in the company’s different locations around the U.S. is mindboggling. Every day, these women step up, help out, train, support then move back into the shadows, reworking curriculums, taking calls at home and in line at the grocery store, traveling to small towns and large dealerships to make sure the automotive engine of progress seamlessly moves forward.

In the end…

To date, there is only one woman who is heading a major automaker — Mary Barra of GM. The number of female motor vehicle executives, engineers, auto design, race car drivers, and in manufacturing positions is minimal at best, and making it through the ranks to become an automotive woman in the upper echelon of a notoriously male business is virtually impossible…

VIRTUALLY, but not completely. It has been, is and will continue being done.

We wonder, however — if it’s women who influence the automobile industry from the outside, what is it that keeps them from controlling decisions on the inside? Is it the lack of interest in STEM subjects for female elementary school students through to higher education? Would scholarships in those areas make more young women sit up and notice? Does the male-dominated vehicle world seem too out of reach for many women? Do they not want to get their hands dirty or work in an industry that obviously prefers men? Or is it that the opportunities that ARE there remain lower-echelon without a clear path to growth?

We don’t know the answers. Really. And there are a lot more questions that the lack of representation and scarcity of female leaders in the automobile industry pose. What we do know is automotive women are out there, making a difference every single day for the advancement of women in car companies and the auto industry in general, and their presence is slowly but surely growing.

Yes, today’s date is March 8th and, sure, the calendar tells us it’s International Women’s Day, and, okay, there are celebrations honoring the female gender for the next 24 hours. But tomorrow, women will wake up and continue pushing the needle a little bit further — they’ll keep impacting the world on into infinity. Because as Margaret Thatcher once said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

Here’s to the doers. Today and every day.

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