Men and Women Together in the Bay: How's It Working?Posted 8/18/2006
Craig and Deb Van Batenburg, AAMs
Many traditional business partners live that model today; for years it worked just fine and may still. But there are numerous other combinations of men and women working together in the shop as co-owners, managers, bookkeepers, technicians, service writers, owner-techs, customer service managers, and many more.
The newest of these combinations is both genders as technicians. During the late '60s and early '70s, it became commonplace for women to look at nontraditional roles in the workplace, and your repair shop was on the list. Women are now fixing cars and trucks and think nothing of it; but for some men it still seems unusual.
The more seasoned technicians we interviewed entered the work force more than 25 years ago. Liz Dally, co-owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic Inc. in Portland, Ore., said when she was in high school, becoming an automotive technician wasn't even an option for women. She later entered the field by taking a course offered by the state. For Pat Robinson of Tire Kingdom, Naples, Fla., entering the automotive service industry was a less-traveled path when she entered 30 years ago. Robinson has worked in many positions in the industry - as a technician, instructor, service writer and in her newest role - store manager.
At Job Corps, a federal training program that is about 40 years old, future auto techs enter a certification program. Once an all-male program, women today comprise almost 10 percent of the graduates. When the ASE tests are given at the high school level, both genders are sitting down with pencil and paper. In some shops around the country, the name over the pocket reads "Shirley" rather than "Steve." Women in automotive service are an ever-changing part of the industry. How is it working for both sexes?
Silvia Tribble of Allstar Automotive in Columbia, Mo., said, "I love the work, I love the environment and I have never had one problem!" She did this interview over the phone while holding a belt tensioner for a co-worker! Her service manager had fixed her up with a headset. Too bad we couldn't have captured that visual!
In communication, two important goals are the task and the relationship. The task goal is about getting the job done. For men, the task goal is usually the only thing considered, especially when time is of the essence. The relational goal concerns the message and how it affects the relationship between you and those with whom you work. Having both goals in mind sets a good and productive work environment. (And then there is that part called non-verbal communication). At a recent communication lecture, this analogy was used: Men are like the DOS system and women are like Windows! Think about it.
By researching both scientific and statistical data, and then applying personal experience, there is ample evidence that men and women are "wired" differently. Numerous studies show that men are more analytical and reason in a more logical way because they have a simpler thought process. Women have a more complicated thought process and think about numerous things most of the time. Men tend to be more task oriented, and women tend to be more relationship oriented. To explore those "wiring diagrams," we did some interviews to get a range of viewpoints.
Some of the interviews were about women communicating better with the service writer than the male techs. It was repeated in many interviews that the female techs gave more details about the car problems, were more open to the questions asked by the service writers and that the women listened more. Every person interviewed was sure to make the disclaimer that they were making a general statement. One plus for the men was a general feeling that men were more concise in stating progress. Men were also short and to the point when answering questions asked by the service writer or the boss. More than once it was mentioned that women want to ensure the environment at work is a good one and are more likely to be the gender interested in bringing up the subject.
In some careers, women meet resistance solely based on their gender. Women in all types of businesses often face barriers and have to make choices about advancement that their male counterparts don't ever have to make or even think about. For women entering the automotive service industry years ago, the challenges were certainly there. But Terica Devoreh-Spratt of Hawthorne's didn't feel like this was an issue. She entered the field eight years ago, and she wasn't the only female at her tech school. She went on to Mt. Hood Community College, and has spent her entire career at Hawthorne. She used to be a technician in the shop, but now works as the service adviser.
In a recent book by Darius Mehri, Notes from Toyotaland, the author talks about "the rules." There are the "written rules of society" that all are created equal and all should have equal opportunity. Then there are the "unwritten rules," which are more about the culture. In certain parts of this country, these unwritten or cultural rules do make it hard for women to enter shops and work as technicians.
Sometimes the orientation of your shop will create a customer base that is very open to women fixing their cars. Such is the case with Out West Automotive. Coquillette knows that she promotes a positive and progressive business image by being in the bay. Jim Houser of Hawthorne said, "For our shop, women working as techs makes a positive impression on our customers. In 22 years of business, we have rarely seen a negative reaction. It works for us!"
Devoreh-Spratt echoed that opinion: "Our customers come here because they like the female input they get at Hawthorne. New customers are surprised to find out I was a technician before I became the service person they speak to at the counter."
Robinson, when speaking about her female shop students, felt they were more responsible with their work areas and were also most reliable in diagnostics. Another automotive instructor told us that his last female student was a quick learner. She was quick to assimilate the material and put it into use. When asked if anything else showed up as a difference, his response was, "The biggest issue is everyone asking her all the time, 'How is it being the only female?'"
Osorio's answer was pretty clear and supports many of the concepts we discovered as we researched this article. But will she make it 20 years from now? Massachusetts in the 1990s had two well-known and respected shops owned by women: Chicago Automotive and Rosemary's Auto Repair. Both were ASA member-shops and both have closed their doors. No new female-run shops of their caliber have emerged since. Is this a national trend? Certainly we need more competent technicians to replace the Baby Boomers who are ready to retire in the next 10 years. More women would be a great addition as the cars get more technical and brains over brawn wins the diagnostic battle every day. You just can't beat a computer into submission with a 10-pound sledge!
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