We’ve all been there, right? Oh how precious, a little lady is here to fix her car. Let’s jack up the rates we quote and add some unnecessary services because we know she doesn’t know anything at all about cars. At some point, every woman has faced the results of this sort of stereotyping.
If you’re lucky, you eventually found a mechanic who treats you with respect. Mine once came out after hours to do some emergency roadside assistance that he didn’t even charge me for because he wanted to make sure I was safe and taken care of. While I seriously appreciated that gesture, it, too, likely only happened because he saw me as a female, and therefore more weak and vulnerable when stranded.
It gets much worse when you try to apply for jobs in the automotive industry.
In any male dominated industry, stereotyping and harassment occurs. I experienced a lot of it myself when I was a young cook, working my way through college with a job that paid better than average rates. Another friend of mine couldn’t get a job in construction at all, despite their numbers being low and their firms constantly hiring. She was told, “This is no industry for women. You couldn’t handle the physical labor, and the culture isn’t much better”.
So what do we do? How bad has it gotten, and how can we fix it? The good news is that companies, like Giti Tire, are making some real headway in their attempts to break stereotypes and make the automotive industry more friendly to females – both as customers and employees. Let’s take a look at some of the ways we can break those stereotypes.
How Bad Is It
Before you can fix a problem, you need to understand why it needs to be changed. Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.
Women are underrepresented everywhere. Across Europe, the highest percentage of women employed in a sector of the automotive industry is still less than 25%, and Canada is even lower. In the United States, women represent just under 27% of the automotive workforce, and when it comes to repair and mechanics, that number drops to below 10% of the workforce. Women of color comprise barely more than 10% of those already staggeringly low numbers. Globally, less than 8% of the top executives in the automotive industry are women.
Pair that with some even more staggering blows. Of the women in this industry, 25% of them feel unsafe at work, and 65% of them report both experiencing sexual harassment and being given assignments that are lower in level than their male counterparts, regardless of their experience or skill.
Is it any wonder, then, that the automotive industry has the lowest retention rate of female employees and the hardest time attracting them to work?
How Can We Fix This
This industry needs to change, quickly. It has never been acceptable behavior to stereotype and harass women, but in today’s culture, it will lead to a crisis if it continues. So what can be done to fix it?
Get on the STEM Train
Other industries have recognized this issue and made massive strides to change this culture. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics have long been stereotypically male dominated fields of study despite tests showing that women are testing just as highly in these fields. Schools, parents, and other industries have been releasing programs geared towards women, trying to get them interested at a young age. It is time for the automotive industry to jump into these programs and partner with these industries in an attempt to draw more women into the fold. When children are taught from a young age that their interest will be nurtured and encouraged, they won’t be as afraid to join the workforce when they grow older.
This is a huge way women can begin breaking the stereotypes. Don’t be afraid to step into the male dominated fields. Even if you’re not interested in becoming an automotive technician in some way, it is extremely useful to learn about the field.
When you know about your car, you can prove your knowledge. Walk into repair shops confidently. Know the market pricing for different jobs, the basics of how cars run, and communicate that with your mechanics.
One of the reasons I adore my mechanic is because he’s not afraid to show me his shop. He will walk me back to my car and point out the things he’s talking about. He lets me know what they do and how they relate to the car, and tells me which repairs need to be done right away and which ones can wait. If your mechanic won’t do this, then it may be time to find a new one. Knowing about your car will prevent unscrupulous mechanics from taking advantage of you.
Statistically speaking, a study was done where they called around for quotes on a repair job. They looked at several factors – what happens when someone had a high price in mind, what happened when a caller was clueless about the market price, and what happened when someone had done their research and looked into the average price for that repair. What they discovered was that those who expected a higher than average price were quoted a high price and those who had done their research were quoted fairly. A discrepancy occurred when calls were made with someone who was clueless about the price. In these cases, they were quoted around the average price for the repair, but women were quoted a higher price than men. On the flip side, women who ask for a lower price are more likely than men to get it due to the stereotype that women don’t haggle.
This study shows that education is important. Women who had clearly done their research and communicated that to the mechanics received the same, fair quote that men did and, when inquiring about a discount, were more likely to get one.
This can also save you money and help in emergency situations. These days, women are wary of men who stop to assist them or offer rides when they are stranded alone. Don’t let yourself get into a dangerous situation. If you blow a tire on the road or get a flat, then knowing how to change it yourself can prevent you from being in a situation where you’re relying on the kindness of a stranger to help you out of that situation. Knowing how to change your own oil can save you crazy amounts of money, especially if your car requires synthetic, and knowing how to check whether your oil or tire pressure is low before major trips can also save you repair costs and problems down the road.
When more and more women begin learning these things for themselves and walking into repair shops fully informed, the industry will be forced to drop the stereotype that women don’t know anything about automotive repair.
React and Report
Changing the industry begins with the women in these careers. Have some great answers on hand. When asked things like, “So what positions do you like?” having a witty comeback can earn respect. My favorite answer is, “Owner and CEO.” It’s just as demeaning as the one they fired at you and firmly lets them know you’re not interested in sexual harassment.
As scary as it might be, firmly discourage the behavior. Tell them clearly that you are not interested and that their actions are not acceptable. While some of them will just be jerks, many of them are used to male dominated environments and will be respectful of the fact that you firmly stood up for yourself. If it continues to be an issue, then move up the chain until someone with the authority to stop it does, even if going up the chain means moving outside of your employer to state and federal level organizations that have guidelines for how to treat protected classes, like women. Eventually, if you are firm enough, someone will step in to stop this behavior.
The last tip is to invite colleagues. If you know some extremely talented women then introduce them to the automotive industry. Help them learn and encourage their interests in mechanics. When they’re ready, recommend them for a position and ask your supervisors to give them an interview and a chance to prove their skills.
When women welcome other women into the fold, it makes room for growth and stereotypes will begin breaking down from within.