Women in the Automotive Field; Challenges, Triumphs and Struggles.
High School Auto Shop Teacher Brian Osborn sat down with Radio Show Host Teresa Aquila, of Teresa’s Garage Radio Show, to discuss women in the Automotive Industries; their challenges, triumphs, and struggles. Here is what they had to say.
Brian Osborn speaks
I have had a love for cars since as far back as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of this guy who lived around the block from me that had a black ’55 Chevy car and a ’55 Chevy truck, both painted black with flames.
Thirty five years later, my passion for classic cars has not waned. Last year I took over the reins of the Auto Shop Class at the school where I’ve taught since 2000. Along with my new position, came the opportunity to be a guest at SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association. This trade association, the largest in the world, consists of a diverse group of manufacturers, distributors, retailers, publishing companies, auto restorers, street-rod builders, restylers, car clubs, race teams, and more. I wasted no time purchasing a flight to Las Vegas, Nevada where the event is held. It was like a dream come true.
As a high school teacher, I have long been an advocate for youth. I have coached many sports teams, but found my niche as the varsity girls’ softball coach for seven years. It was during that time that I developed a better sense of how much I was a supporter of gender equality.
I treated every player, equally, not as a female or male player, but as ball players. The playing field was equal, expectations were across the board, and all were treated the same. I brought my coaching off the field and brought it into the auto shop class, but kept the same approach when it came to dealing with students, male or female.
The Auto Shop Class this year, 2017, consists of fifty students, five of whom are women. Not bad for an auto shop class, in a profession, dominated by men. The young women that are currently enrolled in my class, work hard, and do not mind getting dirty. They have proven to be some of the best students I have had in the auto shop class so far.
When I was wandered around SEMA, checking out all that is offered to those attending, I began to wonder, what does the future have in store for women in the automotive industry? This has been an industry where women are seen more on car calendars, posed on tool boxes, on the hoods of cars, or in 6” heels dressed in a barely-there bathing suit next to 26” rims.
I think to myself, for a young high school woman, can the passion of cars outweigh the sexism of the industry? Will it be enough to get you up and off to work every day with a smile on your face? How comfortable would it be for these women to work in a shop with a variety of men, who have been raised to think attractive women pose on the hoods of cars, not work under them?
As I make my way through SEMA, I notice lines of men waiting to get a poster signed by a girl half their age, with skin tight clothes, pedaling a product that most of them know nothing about. This left me questioning why I would want to have women in my auto class if this is the path I could be leading them down.
Not knowing many female mechanics in this profession, no matter how good they are, will they only be seen as “pretty good…for a girl?” The chances of harassment and objectification will be more prevalent than most other occupations they could explore.
The SEMA show atmosphere made me begin to wonder exactly how knowledgeable does a woman have to be in order to be respected in this industry? How much harder does she have to work? I don’t know. But I do know that I am going to do my best to keep sending young woman from my class into the industry, if they so choose. I am going to want to fill the automotive world with talented people, both male and female. All the while trying to dispel the myth that the only place women have in this industry is on the hood of a car.
In 2017 I want the automotive industry to be better than this. I want to bring four or five of my best students to SEMA next year, one or two of whom might be female. And if they are able to attend, would they be more motivated to embrace the opportunities this industry has to offer or will they be turned off by the fact that more than 25% of the women in the booths at SEMA, were there for one thing, eye candy? I feel it is time for change, to lose the bikini models, and stock the booths with talented, knowledgeable people. Future generations, both male and female, will thank us for it.
Later, once I returned from SEMA, I wanted to get a feel of how my students felt or reacted to sexism in the automotive field. So I took the simplest and most obvious form of this; a magazine cover with an attractive young woman standing next to a car. I chose one of the mildest ones I could find, and displayed it on my 80″ TV with one simple request. “Write down your first reaction to the picture with no time to think about it.” The results were surprising, of the 41 students, 63% mentioned the car, and 32% mentioned the woman as either unnecessary or an obvious marketing ploy, and only 2 students referred to her as “hot” or cute. Considering that these are high school students, and the class is 80% males, these are surprising results, and the conversation that followed was just as enlightening. Most if not all the students agreed that the model was totally unnecessary and that the magazine’s sales wouldn’t be effected one way or another if she wasn’t on the cover at all.
If these young people can maintain this thread of thinking into young adulthood, we may be on the verge of breaking sexist stereotypes in the automotive industry.
Teresa Aquila speaks
Well, Brian, as a female in this industry for over 40 years, there have been many challenges women have had to overcome. If you could not stand up to the challenges, harassment, disrespect, and not being accepted, then your days were numbered.
My career began in the 1970’s when women in the Automotive Industry were taboo and almost unheard of. I learned that lesson early in my life. I learned rejection in fourth grade.
My class was getting ready for open house and each student was to write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. For me it was easy, ever since I can remember I wanted to be two things in life when I grew up. One was a mechanic, the other a Police Officer. Since I was only allowed to choose one profession, I proudly wrote down a mechanic. We all turned in our papers and as the class was getting ready to be dismissed for the day, the teacher asked if I could stay after class so that she could speak with me.
It was at that moment when the teacher explained to me that being a female mechanic was unheard of and not an acceptable profession for women. The teacher did offer some alternatives, like being a nurse, secretary, or matron, and even a house wife. What a blow this was to me, because my heart was set on being a mechanic.
I was instructed to change it or she would flunk me. I was devastated. I did change it, but not without protest. I continued on in life with my passion for those two professions, both of which I have achieved.
So how do we make it more acceptable for women in the automotive profession, since on the Law Enforcement side, it has become embraced with open arms, where the other is still frowned on?
Over the years, women like me have helped to mold the course for other women to follow, but still not without doubt and challenges. Women have been taught if they want to make it in this world, they need to be noticed. Some choose to use their bodies or beauty to be eye candy for men in hopes of landing that perfect job, when in reality, I think they are selling themselves short. Men are also being brought up to believe that women are someone you date or marry and not someone you work under a hood with.
Is this because it’s hard for them to see women in a different light, or is it because they feel intimidated by women if they perform the job better than their male counterparts?
I would never compromise my morals or my talent by playing ‘the girl card.’ Although, some of the males I worked side by side with, did try to work their male ways in order to see what I was really made of. The reason they did not succeed, was because I knew the game and what they were up to.
My advice to women or young girls who wish to enter this profession is, be good at what you do, and never compromise who you are to get what you want. Be hired on merit, not beauty. If you find other women doing this, do not lower yourself to their level, otherwise you will not accomplish your dreams or goals. Be passionate about what you want to do. People can be taught skills, but you cannot teach passion.
When you are passionate about what you do, people will gravitate to you. Always do your best, no matter the job you choose, because people will remember you for how good you are and not how pretty you are.
You are in charge of your future and your destiny, so make a goal and stick to it… no matter how tough it might get.
So Brian, as you can see, if any individual really wants something in life, work towards it, and teach your female students that they can master any type of profession and still maintain the “girl inside”.