Debate Triumphs, Career & Identity Chosen

I have mentioned before I would be pursuing the topic of dealerships v. independent car repair shops and, yesterday, I found new material to cover. I am relieved, because it supports me as I admit my perspective is one-sided. I am most familiar with dealerships which could, no matter how hard I try, cause me to develop a bias toward them. However, I did have my turn at the independent car repair shop.

One thing I hadn’t considered as much was independent shops versus franchise repair shops. Franchise repair shops are like dealerships–they have a big backing in some sort of corporation or vehicle manufacturer. They must answer to them and reflect their policies. This is good, I believe, in increasing chances of being hired in the automotive industry when you are a woman.

I hit the internet yesterday, vying for people to push my motivation button, and searched words like women (or woman) paired with car repair. The results were not as varied as I had hoped on the first page; most are ones I have read before. However, I read about struggles I had forgotten about particularly the search for that first automotive job. I want to tap into mine:

I hit the streets applying soon after I started college out-of-state–my savings were limited and I needed something to cover rent and food. Although the automotive college instructors insisted we had a valuable tool in our belt by not having any bad habits because we’ve never worked the industry, I avoided the industry, at first. But relying on experience from my high school job in a rural community never landed me anything in that field in the urban district. Thus, I finally went form-filling for the career I was still learning. I tried small shops, tire shops, lube facilities, and I received one interested call, from an independent car repair shop. They employed me for a couple of months. Yes, I was the only woman in their team of five or six technicians, a service advisor, and a couple of managers. One confidence booster was the day I impressed the shop foreman with my tenacious pursuit to get massive tires installed on a rock crawler. After a tip of rolling the tire up my leg to make hefting the heavy, rounded object easier, I finally got the job done. Anyway, for the two months I was employed there I saw glimpses of the darker side of the automotive world where a little of it had to do with the automotive business in general but some of it just had to deal with the kind of men they were in real life. It was probably my best opportunity when I was laid-off due to lack of work.

The college had a bulletin board loaded with job openings around the Denver area. There, I found my next job, but I never would have guessed it. Sure I applied, but I felt well-intimidated when I followed up the call with a visit. The dealership was huge, sprawling, very clean, and professional. How had I gotten my foot in the door there? Obviously I had since they had contacted me, but I couldn’t see getting any other appendages through it. After an interview, I was requested to drive off-site to their smaller extension–lube (just oil changes) facility–to meet the manager there. I might have been hired that day–can’t really recall, but I can recall, from that start, I worked for that dealership for well over a decade, moving from position to position–sometimes up, sometimes sideways–and when I first started, I was not the only woman staffing the place as wrench-turner a.k.a. mechanic.

From what I read yesterday and my own experiences, I would venture to guess that it is more difficult to get hired-on at an independent repair shop versus a franchise-backed or manufacturer-backed business. It might be stereotypes; maybe independent shops see hiring a woman as more of a gamble than “large box stores,” whereas for the corporate areas they have more drive to hire women because it reflects better on their overall business, appearing more as an equal opportunity employer. (After all, times have changed–“Women made up 44.1% of primary vehicle buyers in 2010, compared to 19.5% in 1990.” Per Women … Automotive Industry from Catalyst.) I must, before going any further, exempt a certain style of independent repair shop which we see opening up around the nation, those of women-owned and operated facilities. They have empowering traits all their own, and I salute their drive.

I would like to push you, my reader, to visit the article I linked in the last paragraph, for I found numbers that even astonished me especially those involving the number of actual women mechanics. (I know the study reflects 2013 numbers–how much can change in two years? I’d imagine and expect it has gone up since then.) So why did I set aside my wrenches for a different automotive-related job? Hint: It has little to do with gender.

In hindsight, I escaped the joint-crushing tendencies of the mechanic position. But, at the time, I had other reasons pushing me to try something else which had less to do with being woman and more to do with my sole, personality type, my strict individuality. I am a perfectionist, which later allows me to excel in finding the part you were trying to describe to me, but, more to the point, mechanics/technicians were paid based on the proficiency of their performance. Any job had a set rate and, if you finished within that set amount of time or sooner, you could come out far ahead of just an eight-hour day while the time clock had you punched in for eight hours. My focus on detail would never let me get ahead, plus I wasn’t one for investing in thousands of dollars worth of tools for which anyone seeking to become a mechanic should be prepared, but most tools, you buy once. And, at a dealership, you usually work on only one line of cars so you would need only some of the special tools out there, whereas an independent shop needs to invest in special tools for each and every car line out there. I don’t know if you hit the yellow pages lately or counted as you drove down Dealership Row, but there are a lot of car lines out there.

From a woman trying to work the automotive industry, what I’ve written is my take on dealer vs. shop. And as I stated, I may not have a balanced view to give you the angle from a customer deciding between the two, but I would like, in another post down the road, to share what a dealership can offer besides, probably, higher prices. I do have the historical support of talking to many repair shops as I worked a parts counter and tell you there are many hard-working little shops out there that deserve as much or more credit as some dealerships.

Being a woman, I believe, pushed me into a dealership career which, in turn, helped me find the parts department. But, that last turn, came from me being me. 🙂

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