Three of this year’s “Most Influential Women” on Monday suggested measures shops can take to encourage women to join a collision repair industry desperately in need of skilled personnel from either gender.
Petra Schroeder, a retired longtime Axalta brand development manager who stays active in the industry as a “collisionista”; Marie Peevy, owner of Automotive Training Coordinators; and Mary Mahoney, Enterprise Holdings insurance replacement division vice president, shared some thoughts about acceptance and recruitment of women in the collision repair ecosystem following the Women’s Industry Network’s announcement they’d taken 2018 honors.
Schroeder, the WIN chair; Peevy, a WIN board member; and Mahoney share the trade group’s highest annual award with Shelly Bickett, co-founder of Fix Auto USA and owner of nine of its shops.
“This year’s recipients exemplify the meaning of ‘Most Influential,’ All four women have been a positive force in the collision repair industry and their local communities. While reaching new professional milestones, they continued to mentor and support others. We are looking forward to celebrating with them during the WIN Educational Conference in May. Congratulations!” DCR Systems Chief Financial Officer and “Most Influential Women” Co-Chair Cheryl Boswell said in a statement. Boswell herself was honored with the MIW award in 2015.
“I can’t really describe it,” Schroeder said of receiving the award. She said she was “humbled” and “honored” by recognition for something “that I do with a big passion”
“It means a lot,” said Schroeder, who said it also “makes me want to do more.”
“First, it validates, at least in some way, that I have contributed in a positive way to the industry and the great individuals in it,” Peevy wrote. “Second, I am humbled to be added to such an impressive list of women before me, as well as those who are being recognized this year with me, who have contributed so much.
“It’s an absolute honor to be recognized as one of the most influential women in our industry, alongside my colleagues Mary, Marie, and Petra,” Bickett said in a statement. “Ever since becoming involved with our industry, it’s been my goal to help other women navigate the industry, get involved with organizations like WIN, and ultimately help the next generation.”
“I am passionate about what I do every day, and I am passionate about helping others achieve personal and professional success,” Mahoney wrote in an email. “Being recognized by WIN as an influential woman is a great honor, and I am humbled. It tells me maybe I can make a difference in the industry and in lives of women I meet on a regular basis. That is so important to me and to Enterprise. It is important that we continue to bring awareness to the collision industry and the crucialness of training and advancement that needs to continue for this area, and especially for women.”
The 2016 Collision Repair Education Foundation-ICAR survey found shops needing an average of 0.9 entry-level technicians and 1.7 experienced techs. The 2013 snapshot found 2 percent of the industry was women. Recruiting from that underrepresented half of the population might help fill these and other open positions in the industry.
Schroeder said WIN tries to promote collision repair to parents and schools as an opportunity, describing misperceptions of the industry that would seem to apply whether the candidate was male or female. She said WIN takes the approach of advising female candidates that “‘Yeah, there are some challenges,'” but such hurdles exist everywhere.
Peevy seemed to offer a similar assessment when asked how the industry could attract more women.
“It all starts with the acknowledgment this is a great industry to work in,” she wrote in an email. “It’s not perfect, but no industry is. They all have challenges. What our industry offers to women is diverse opportunity. We need to do a better job highlighting that diversity in opportunity. From small companies to large corporations, from technical work to administrative and sales and so much more, our industry has something for everyone with every type of interest and educational background. I honestly can’t think of another industry I would rather be in. It has been very good to me and to many of those around me who are willing to learn, work and contribute. That’s the message we need to get better at delivering outside our industry.”
“I think it needs to start at the high school level and in the vo-tech area,” Mahoney wrote. “We must place an emphasis on creating an awareness of the career opportunities that exists with these skills.
“With 30+ years in this business, I am definitely a fan of our industry and think it’s a fantastic opportunity for anyone… but especially women… to have a career. There are so many areas in the automotive industry in which women can find success, which is why I encourage women not to shy away from a segment that has historically not been considered as a career opportunity for them.
“As I progressed through my career, I found that when I was considering the next big promotion, I often questioned whether I was qualified. But with support and mentoring, I learned that if I didn’t get outside my comfort zone and take a chance, I’d never know what I could achieve. Opportunities are endless.”
Asked if the barrier to more women in collision repair was on the supply side — parents or candidates have a bad impression of the field — or the demand side — shops are resistant or not conducive to women employees, Schroeder said, “I think a little bit of both.”
Body shops can be “not necessarily prepared” for a female employee, Schroeder said.
“The culture in the shop kind of has to adjust a little bit,” she said. Steps can include “a clean bathroom” (something that’s less of an issue in customer-facing modern shops, she said) or telling employees, “‘We are going to welcome a female into this environment. Please help.'”
Schroeder said she didn’t feel being a woman to be a barrier during her more than 40-year career at Axalta. She attributed it to her own attitude that proving she can do the job meant “the respect will come,” even if it might take longer.
Her work took her to multiple continents, and she did encounter some more male-dominated regions. However. competency won out, and Schroeder never perceived those situations as challenges, she said.
“It was fun to overcome those,” she said.
Schroeder said the collision repair industry had undergone a “definite shift” in accepting female employees such as adjusters, painters and estimators. She cited the recognition of the different skillsets women might bring to a shop, giving the examples of organizational ability and “color eye.”
She said she felt the trade was “going a good way,” with plenty of women making a showing.
“We just need to continue,” she said. Ultimately, “it will become normal,” with the reaction to someone like a female estimator being, “‘That’s a great job to be in,'” rather than her being perceived as an anomaly, Schroeder said.
Peevy saw gains in female employees in the industry as well and advised women to be confident in their ability to contribute.
“I think the biggest thing is the number of women who are active in our industry,” she wrote. “It seems to grow every year, and you see they are in very influential roles. What I see that needs work is that we as women need to recognize our ability to contribute and have confidence that we provide an important perspective to the industry that serves decision-making women. We all should have the attitude we earn our place and then go about learning and contributing.”
“While there aren’t as many women in the automotive industry as there could be, we are seeing women’s roles grow and advance,” Mahoney wrote. “And, we’re moving forward very quickly in all aspects of the auto industry, especially in the collision repair industry. Additionally, there have been tremendous efforts made in the recruitment and training of overall new talent in the collision industry, and specifically women. I sit on the board of the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), and this has been a focus of the organization for some time.”
Schroeder said WIN offers the opportunity for new members to be paired with a mentor, which seems like it might be useful for female employees who still need a little advice or support. The benefit is available to regular WIN members who want it, as well as women taking advantage of the free WIN memberships available to all students. (Membership normally is $95.)
Schoeder said she talks with 5-6 WIN members on a regular basis in such relationships, which she said she considers to be more like “coaching” and helping with networking than mentoring.
Schroeder suggested that one additional means of attracting women (and men, it seems) could be a shop-school shadow program like an internship, which she predicted would “go a long way” even though it can be a slow process. Students would learn the business and deliver higher-quality work, and the shop could be assured of a candidate, according to Schroeder.
“Some shops do that,” she said.
Unfortunately, many vo-tech schools lack collision repair, something Schroeder said she hoped changed with the current political emphasis on skilled trades.
The Women’s Industry Network Most Influential Women logo is shown. (Provided by Women’s Industry Network)
Shelly Bickett, co-founder of Fix Auto USA and owner of nine of its shops, is shown. (Provided by Fix Auto USA)
Mary Mahoney, Enterprise Holdings insurance replacement division vice president, is shown. (Provided by Enterprise)
Petra Schroeder, a retired longtime Axalta brand development manager who stays active in the industry as a “collisionista,”is shown. (Provided by Schroeder)
Marie Peevy, owner of Automotive Training Coordinators, is shown. (Provided by Peevy)